Would you Short-Change a Pedophile?

For some time the film industry has been running an anti-piracy campaign with slogans such as “you wouldn’t steal a car” [1] in an attempt to draw a false analogy between downloading a movie and stealing a significant and valuable object – the modern equivalent to being a “horse thief“. One of the many ways that such poor analogies break down is the fact that downloading a movie is not a crime, it’s copyright infringement.

The best analogy that I can think of for non-commercial copyright infringement is the practice of short-changing. I expect that almost everyone has at some time received less change than they deserved when buying something at a shop, the cashier aims to collect $1 or $2 from each customer and can easily double the amount of money that they take home at the end of the day. When a customer complains they just pretend to have made a mistake and although short-changing is a crime (unlike copyright infringement) it almost never results in police action. The practice is tolerated to such a degree that some people know the shops where they are likely to be short-changed, they count their change more carefully and demand the full amount – but don’t bother complaining to the manager!

The film industry also tries to portray itself as representing struggling artists who deserve the money, it’s described as a moral issue – good people pay for movies while bad people download movies and steal cars. But then there’s the case of Roman Polanski who is a well known movie director and child rapist [2]. I expect that most store employees would gladly palm some of the change if Roman Polanski was a customer – that is of course if they weren’t too busy arranging a lynch mob.

So instead of “you wouldn’t steal a car” a more reasonable statement would be “you would short-change a pedophile if you weren’t organising a lynch mob“. Please note that murdering a criminal as part of a lynch mob is a crime (unlike making an unauthorised copy of a DVD), so I encourage people not to perform lynchings.

Many important people in the movie industry have different ideas, the Wall Street Journal has an article about the petition to free Roman Polanski which demonstrates the difference between Hollywood attitudes and those of the rest of the world [3]. For them, violent crime is no big deal if the criminal is famous and the victim isn’t – but anything which affects their own wealth is regarded as a serious issue.

Indiewire has a copy of the petition to free Roman and a list of the names of 100 people who signed it [4] (I heard that the latest count was nearer 150 but couldn’t find a reference). I believe that the matter of morals is not whether someone who rapes children deserves jail time (that issue is really clear) but whether it is morally acceptable to give money to such a criminal – or their supporters. I suggest that the list of signatories to the pro-rape petition be black-listed, any movie that involves any of them should not be paid for – either don’t see the movie or download it without paying at your own whim. If anyone knows of a web site that is being regularly updated with a list of all past and current projects involving people who signed the petition for Roman then please let me know – it would be good to have a list of movies that I will never pay for.

Anyone who feels morally obliged to pay something for a movie and who has a great desire to watch a movie made by Roman Polanski or his supporters could download it and then make a donation to a charity equivalent to the purchase price – rumor has it that women’s refuges are always short of funds.

As an aside I find Wikipedia a good reference for movies that I don’t plan to see, I read the plot summary on the wiki page and then have no curiosity about what happens in the movie – if that isn’t adequate I ask friends for spoilers or do a Google search on the movie name and “spoilers“.

14 comments to Would you Short-Change a Pedophile?

  • Wussy

    Copyright infringement is a crime in some countries. :)

  • Sami Liedes

    Don’t know which jurisdiction you are talking about. Copyright infringement is a crime at least in the US. Not that I’d agree with the law(s) here necessarily.

    17 U.S.C. § 506

    (a) Criminal infringement.–
    (1) In general.–Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed– [any of the following:]
    (A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;
    (B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000; OR
    (C) by the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution.

  • etbe

    Sami: That’s all for commercial use. If you personally download an mp4 file containing the work of Roman Polanski for your own personal enjoyment then you won’t meet those criteria.

  • Tim

    Copyright infringement is a wrong. It’s not a crime of property theft, it’s an infringement of intellectual rights. Someone who creates a work is allowed to assign rights to their creation. The GNU licenses work following this principle. In some jurisdictions, this intellectual infringement is a crime. There are other non-material actions which are crimes (libel and slander, or conspiracy to commit a crime). The decision to treat copyright infringement as a crime is a matter for each jurisdiction. It is a crime if the law says so. The law may suck, but you can’t say it’s not a crime if it is.

  • @Tim: Copyright infrigement is a crime, it’s called counterfeit. And, at least in my country, the associated penalties are much higher than those of a simple theft (e.g. stealing a car without using violence).

    @Russell: I don’t want to defend Roman Polanski, and I couldn’t care less of what happens to him, but you can’t call him a “child rapist”. By making such an easy amalgam, you are being insulting to those who were actually victims of rapists. You are also surrendering to the ongoing demagogy that surrounds minors’ sexuality. Statutory rape is a juridical aberration, it has nothing to do with a real rape. So yes, Polanski committed a crime, and he probably deserved your badmouthing, but you need to stop calling him a rapist.

  • Tim

    @Np237 distributing modified GNU code without distributing source is a copyright infringement. But I doubt that counts as counterfeiting in common law jurisdictions.In the same way, buying a video for which you are granted home viewing rights and then broadcasting it in a theatre and charging admission is a copyright infringement, but it’s not counterfeiting (well, I guess it’s not).

  • @Tim: the name for the infractions you describe, in France, is « contrefaçon », which means counterfeiting. I believe it is the same in quite a number of countries, at least European ones. Yes, it’s ridiculous and penalties are insane for such crimes, but that’t the current state of law.

  • Laurent

    [sorry people, it seems that WordPress ate Laurent’s comment – if anyone has a copy that they received by email then please forward it to me so I can restore it]

  • etbe

    Np237: Please read the facts of the case.

    Roman initially made a plea-bargain to plead guilty to statutory rape as part of a deal that would have protected the victim’s identity. He reneged on that deal by running from the law and I believe that he now faces the original rape charges.

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia which accurately sums up a number of news reports about the matter: “The girl testified that Polanski gave her both champagne and Quaalude, a sedative drug, and despite repeated protests and being asked to stop, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy upon her.”

  • etbe

    Laurent: Maybe in France short-changing has gone away, but I’ve observed it to be relatively common in Australia, the US, and the Netherlands.

    Supermarkets don’t stop this practice, at the end of the shift the cash in the till is compared to the recorded total, if it’s short then the salary of the cashier is docked, if there is extra then the cashier gets to keep it (officially they are supposed to give it to the supermarket – but in practice the managers don’t watch them counting the cash). So all the cashier has to do is to refrain from giving enough coins and they can then take the difference from the till at the end of the shift.

    PS Sorry but I have to remove the URL from your comment. Allowing links to commercial sites encourages spammers.

  • @etbe: and later the girl also told her mother asked her to lie in her testimony. For such a case, you’ll never get the full picture since everybody is lying.

    Fact is, the only thing Polanski was convicted of is “statutory rape” (FSM I hate this expression).

  • Laurent

    Sorry for not saving the previous comment, and about the short-changing in a cashier world, it’s more the shortcut made by the sentence : “the cashier aims to collect $1 or $2 from each customer and can easily double the amount of money that they take home at the end of the day.” in the original article. Some could imagine those cashiers, in any place they work, easily get the double they were working for, Maybe some exist… the short changing sure exist, everywhere, but the cashier-person example disturbs me.

  • etbe

    Laurent: In Australia the minimum wage is $14.31 per hour. Most cashiers are not earning much more than the minimum wage so stealing $2 from 8 customers every hour would double their wages and that doesn’t seem difficult to do. In countries like the US with a lower minimum wage there is more incentive for cashiers to do this and it’s easier for them to achieve goals such as doubling their income.

    Really I expect that part of the reason why customers don’t take a hard line on short-changing is that they know the cashiers are not paid well. I’m not going to involve the police when someone who is less wealthy than me tries to defraud me of a small sum of money. I just say “nice try” and demand the correct change.