Piracy Isn’t Theft
Pirating comics is copyright infringement. No doubt. Piracy also raises serious ethical issues; for example, creators rights with regard to the distribution and sale of their work. No question. However, piracy isn’t theft. Not literally anyway.
If a thief takes a comic then he has it and you don’t. The thief has deprived you of the product. Not true with piracy. If a pirate bootlegs a comic then he has it…but so do you. The product itself has multiplied. Piracy is a crime of giving.
It’s still tempting to link piracy with theft because of the implied connection to lost sales; however, the truth is that we simply can’t know if person that illegally downloads comics would have ever purchased them conventionally. In fact, Nathan Torkington, chair of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (among other things) posits that media pirates are motived by convenience more than economics.
“rights holders…perpetuate the piracy ‘problem’ by not giving consumers the convenience that piracy does”
“…’pirates’ are actually doing a very good job at categorizing, organizing and presenting content; furthermore, their content is always DRM-free…”
In fact, there’s even evidence to suggest that, given the right circumstances, pirating comics may even help increase sales. This is particularly interesting because, if we can assume there’s no practical difference between a digital comic and a pirated copy, it implies that piracy might have changed the dynamics of compensation itself. Instead of simply paying for goods, compensation now includes abstract concepts like quality and entitlement.
Here’s the problem: piracy is a complex, ethical issue. It is not the digital equivalent of a stolen goods. The disconnect between the language we use and how we understand the problem only contributes to further, misguided solutions.