AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

The Ethics of Piracy for Personal Use

by Charles Reuben Gibson

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: Piracy; Intellectual Property; Ethics; Applied Ethics; Rights; Harm
Record ID: 1315822
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4954


In recent years the dispute over the ethical status of piracy has intensified. The entertainment industry maintains that piracy is theft and extremely harmful whilst consumers maintain that many acts of piracy are in fact harmless and that the industry is unjustly exercising its monopoly over works of fiction on electronic media (F.E.M.s). At its core, this is a property dispute over who owns physical instantiations of F.E.M. such as DVDs and over what our property rights are. Both parties appeal to analogies with ordinary property to justify their views but such justifications fail because of the numerous dissimilarities between ordinary property and F.E.M.s. I outline a better argument for the ethics of piracy which focuses on harms and property rights. A cost-benefit analysis of piracy harms is inappropriate because of well-known weaknesses with such an approach. Employing a general prohibition on harm, I argue that piracy harms sales in the range of 4.1% to 12.89% and reduces employment opportunities but does not affect incentives to produce new F.E.M.s. These harms are not instances of wrongful harming because they do not violate morally justified property rights. While the F.E.M. property bundle is likely to include some moral rights, such as a right of paternity, it does not include moral exclusionary rights over experience of F.E.M.s and any such large scale special rights are only justified if they maximise social welfare. Thus the trumping power of rights in the piracy dispute is significantly weaker than thought by Himma (2008). Piracy is morally permissible in the sense that it does not violate justified property rights but impermissible in the sense that it is responsible for a collective harm to sales. Moral obligations for collective harms are complex but I outline conditions for piracy which prevent such acts from collectively harming sales and an alternative system called F.E.M. Hub which encourages agents to adhere to their moral obligations. Thus some but not all acts of piracy are morally permissible.