Copyrights and patents are a subsidy, nothing more -- a fact the Founders recognized. That's why they phrased the principle the way they did, and put it in the Articles as a power the government was authorized to enact. It is not a right, and never was -- otherwise it would be among the rights protected by the Bill of Rights.
It's also one of the few areas I disagree with the Founders. *NO* government subsidy should have been written into law, much less enshrined in the Constitution.
It is simply not the business of the FBI (or any other government agency) to assure that the makers of crass products like Mickey Mouse (or even Windows) get rich.
Copyright law stifles innovation and makes plagiarism of others (ie Disney characters mostly based on public-domain Grimm's Tales, most software being altered versions of existing code or ideas (such as the Windows GUI being inspired by the Mac GUI, etc) profitable.
Patents are no different. Had Benz succeeded in patenting the automobile as a whole in the late 1800's, automobiles would *still* be extremely costly and idiotically-designed to this very day.
I could care less if a person downloads files of any type. No one has any "right" to ideas (or electrons). Those who want to "protect their 'right' [sic] to their copyright" should be expected to sell their material only under contract -- and they should be expected to be ready to have courts enforce those contracts. Why do I as a landlord have to get my contracts enforced at my own expense while copyright holders expect the FBI to do their work for them?
I began experimenting with open-source software this year for all of the above reasons -- and when I can, I avoid purchasing copyrighted or patented items. I prefer not to deal with subsidized monopolists if I can help it.
Copyright holders should figure out how to deliver their product to willing consumers cheaply enough so that those consumers won't want to *bother* investing the time (installing a file browser, etc) or money (upgrades to hardware, and so on) required to "steal" them instead.
Apple, for all its faults, proved this concept can be profitable with its iPod and downloadable song services; but even so, it's certain late-adopters will continue to whine about how things "should be" rather than embracing new technology and getting with the times.
Another reason why copyright law is increasingly a failure at its intended purpose: It backfires right in the face of the publishers. As law-enforcement/legal interference grows, so does resistance and rebellion. Remember what Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin, in the first Star Wars ("A New Hope"): "The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers."
The only free-market way to protect ideas is with contractual agreements -- which should be enforced in civil courts, not with criminal courts as is copyright law -- OR to maintain physical control over the medium on which ideas are stored. Then, if I steal the medium, yes, I am guilty of theft, because I have taken something tangible. And the theft of such property should extend to the fair market value of the ideas contained within the medium, using established practices for calculating such fair market value.
And yes, even though the medium itself might be a CD worth 45 cents, courts are generally smart enough to figure out that 100 lbs of fish oil is worth less than 100 pounds of gold. Therefore, if one could subtantiate a claim that the CD stolen would have netted the owner $1 million in a sale at fair market value, the court will generally back you up.
I stand by my assertion that copyright law is just another subsidy; in this case for those who have ideas. It distorts a HUGE sector of the market, enabling SOME vendors of copyright-able products to become FABULOUSLY rich. If they were in a free-for-all market, they would have to pay more attention to effective delivery & marketing to the mass market of CHEAP products. We'd get a lot more standardization, and MANY more people would be able to purchase the product.
Isn't the main raison d'etre of a free market to assure that businesses get products to consumers in the most efficient (i.e., lowest cost possible for an identical good) way? Copyrights assure that will never happen here.
Further Reading ********************************************