Copyleft, Is copying really stealing?


Switching things up a bit, we had a lesson given to us by Clare about Copyleft. I really enjoyed this lesson, it was very interesting for me as I had never heard of anything to do with copyleft before. I really like how Clare presented it as well, I was engrossed the whole time! I agreed a lot with this subject as well so I think that contributed as well. Anyway, I have a couple of questions to answer, so here I go 🙂

Do you think that copying is always theft or not? Explain you reasons?

To put simply no I don’t think that copying is always theft, sometimes sure it can be. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to copying, so everyone has there own opinion on the matter. There are many different subjects that come under “copying”, so I will go through a couple important ones.

Copying Information

As a student, with blogs and assignments I do this a lot. There is a fine line between copying with references to enhance your work and full on stealing someone elses work. When browsing websites, books, newspapers etc and you come across a quote or a paragraph that explains something really well or has a lot of meaning to you there is nothing wrong with adding it to your work to enhance the readers experience, or to explain things better than you can, as long as you give credit to the owner by referencing where you got it from. This is definitely not stealing! However, if you intentionally completely copy someone elses work without giving them any credit for it and try to pass it off as your own, this is stealing! It is unfair to the creator of the work, as they have put all their hard work into something and you have gone and copied and pasted it. There is a part in the New Zealand Copyright Act that allows copying in certain circumstances such as, researching or private study, criticism or review and reporting current events. However, there are certain rules to follow by with each situation to prevent yourself from copyrighting. These are totally understandable circumstances where copying someone elses work is used for a good purpose. Basically understanding that when you use something from a website, newspaper, book, etc that is not your own work remember to reference where it came from and don’t steal the whole thing to try pass off as your own. Not only can tutors, etc tell if you have copied someone elses work because everyone has their own writing style and way of explaining things, but it is also not fair to those people who have done all that hard work. Same thing goes for pictures, videos what ever you get off anything that is not your own work.


There are a lot of different opinions on this subject, whether it is considered stealing or if it’s a simple case of copying. I fall into the latter, depending on what you use it for. If you are simply downloading movies, tv shows, music etc for your own personal use, to watch or listen to in your down time I believe that is absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if someone downloads a torrent with the purpose of copying and distributing them for a profit, this is wrong! I do not believe this is right, because this is gaining from someone elses hard work. A lot of the time people simply download to “test” out the movie, etc before buying, because these days they are very expensive to buy. So when you go to purchase it you want to know it is something worth spending your money on. Doing researching for my previous blog about Copyright I found out about Joel Tenenbaum who was charged $675,000 for P2P sharing 31 songs, works out to be $22,000 per song. Now, he wasn’t making any profit from this, he was basically just sharing them with people he wasn’t gaining anything from it. How is that right? They have pretty much ruined his life financially and dragged his name through the mud. I personally don’t think this is right, I believe someone who is actually gaining some sort of profit for stealing someone elses property is wrong and such be prosecuted accordingly.

“If “piracy means using the creative property of others without their permission- if “if value, then right” is true- then the history of the content industry is a history of piracy. Every important sector of “big media” today- film, records, radio, and cable TV-was born of a kind of piracy so defined. The consistent story is how last generation’s pirates join this generation’s country club-until now.”
― Lawrence LessigFree Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity

This quote from Lawrence Lessig a big fighter for political reform, including this big copyright, piracy dilemma is a very good one and is exactly right. Everything around us today has been either copied from something else or inspired from something else. So is copying really wrong? If everything around us is basically a copy?

We have all seen the above clip, before pretty much every movie. I put this in here to point out that downloading a movie, etc via a torrent is NOT the same as stealing someones car, bag, TV or actually stealing a movie from a store. It is completely different, technically you are not stealing from anyone unless you are making a profit from it you are simply copying.

These are only a couple topics that fall under the “copying” heading, but they are the biggest ones, the ones mostly argued about. They are ones I have a strong opinion about.

Who was Aaron Swartz and what part has he played in the copyright debate?


Aaron Hillel Swartz was an American computer programmer, writer, political organiser and Internet activist. He was involved in:

  • The development of the web feed format RSS


  • The organisation Creative Commons


  • The website framework


  • The social news site, Reddit (he became partner after it’s merge with company, Infogami)


  • He also founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act

He was arrested for breaking and entering charges because he downloaded some academic journal articles from JSTOR. He was charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which carried a maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release. Two days later Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, where he had hanged himself. In June 2013, Swartz was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Clare told us this story in class and it is a really upsetting one, to know what he was fighting against eventually killed him, in an unfair, very sad way. There is a good chance that Aaron affected how we use the internet today and how we will use it in the future.

He was a co-created of Creative Commons which is an organisation which invented new forms of “copyleft” to let people choose to let their creations be free from copyright controls. It was this last motivation of his that was his downfall. He went to great lengths to make public domain information actually public and he successfully did this from the PACER service. However, years later he tried again using the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys (MIT) computer network to download around 70GB of papers from the academic database JSTOR. He was caught and ridiculously charged (listed previously).

He was a very smart, young man with so many promising adventures in his life. He felt very strongly about keeping the internet free, very strongly about the purpose of Creative Commons. It is a great loss for the world. He was such an innovative thinker, way beyond his time. It was what he was fighting against that killed him, I personally think it was not fair what they did to him for making “public information” actually public. I am glad I have come to learn about his struggles and efforts to keep the internet free and I appreciate everything he did.

Overall, I believe that copying is not theft, neither is “pirating” depending on what you are using it for. I believe that the internet should be a free internet now and in the future.


Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand License.


1 Comment

  1. A very nice blog post Anna – thank you 🙂 I am pleased that you found it interesting and I agree with you about the importance of Larry Lessig and Aaron Swartz ‘s work.

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