When it comes to battling piracy, there’s a pretty huge semantic problem that is getting in the way of dealing with the real issue. Organizations like the RIAA and the MPAA tend to treat pirated copies of software as stolen copies of software when they’re calculating their (inaccurate) annual losses to piracy. In actuality, piracy — while illegal — is not theft; it’s piracy. That’s why it’s called piracy, not theft. In a bid to drive this point home, a little project called Send Them Your Money has suggested an elegantly flippant way to “appease” the MPAA and RIAA: Send them full compensation for their losses in the form of copied dollar bills.
The project hearkens back to a case heard by the Japanese judge Ōoka Tadasuke hundreds of years ago. In that case, an innkeeper accused a student of stealing the fumes of his food. The student would often eat his dull food while the innkeeper was cooking and the innkeeper argued that this meant the student was stealing the smells and using them to flavor his food. The ultimate ruling was that the student was to pass some money from one of his hands to the other, the thought being that the smell of food was more or less equal to the sound of money.
The same idea is at work here. If the RIAA and the MPAA are going to argue that copies of software — which by their very nature do not diminish the souce from which they are copied — are for all intents and purposes the genuine item, they should be happy with copies of money since, by their logic, that is as good at the real thing. Now, I’d like to be crystal clear here and say that piracy is not legal and it’s not ethical, but that being said, it’s also not theft. This project has nothing to do with affirming the legitimacy of piracy; it has everything to do with highlighting the inconsistent logic organizations like the MPAA and RIAA use in regards to piracy and weighing its affects.
“Now wait,” you say, “isn’t copying money illegal?” Not if you do it right. Reproducing images of money (in the United States at least) is perfectly legal under three conditions:
- The copy has to be one-sided
- The copy has to be the wrong size. It has to be at least 75% smaller or 150% larger than an actual bill
- You have to destroy the negatives, graphic files, or “digitized storage mediums” after their final use
The last one is a little unclear as it seems to apply specifically to physical copies of money, but it seems relatively reasonable to assume that their final use is getting emailed to someone, or posted on a website, they’re fine so long as they adhere to rules 1 and 2.
If digital copies of money still make you uncomfortable, Send Them Your Money also provides a handy ASCII version, for those of us who are a little strapped for fake cash. Now you actually can email some fake money to the RIAA and the MPAA if you really want to, but I think more than anything else, this serves as a particularly useful thought experiment that really brings home the differences between theft and piracy and what “a copy” really is (and isn’t). There’s probably little you could do to get the RIAA and MPAA to change their tune, and sending them fake money is unlikely to make them see any light, but it is certainly good for a chuckle, and an important lesson in semantics.
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