Plagiarism and software piracy are illegal in the United States, and are generally agreed to be morally wrong as well. However, our world is changing fast. New words and phrases such as Napster and Random Access Memory are being invented every second. What do the words plagiarism, software piracy and copyright infringement mean?
The dictionary* defines plagiarism as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.” As a would be writer, I find plagiarism morally reprehensible. It is the ultimate “sell out”. One who desires to achieve recognition but is so unwilling to work for it has no self-respect and likely self-esteem issues as well. That being said, as a would be writer I am also aware of influences from other authors seeping into ones work. For example, I easily could have begun this paper by saying, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that plagiarism is wrong.” I would not begin the paper this way because that statement is probably not true, but readers of Jane Austen will find it eerily familiar. The first line of Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice begins “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”** If I ever write the phrase “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” is that plagiarism? It is such a nice concise way of saying things, but certainly a “close imitation” of that sentence. We both speak the English language after all, surely some words will overlap. How many consecutive words must be said and not attributed for something to count as plagiarism?
Software piracy is another tricky issue. If my boyfriend buys a bunch of CDs and then uses a CD burner to make me a mix CD for my birthday, is that piracy? Should he have bought those songs a second time on iTunes and then erased them once he had the hard copy? I suppose that would be the most moral, but no one has provided a satisfactory answer to this question. What if he takes songs from CDs he already owns and makes himself a mix? Should he have purchased those songs a second time? I personally feel that that would be rather stupid. He must pay to put them on another CD but he can build a play list on his iPod and get the same experience for free? There is the rather immoral act of defining the point until it is ludicrous. Even Rene Descartes admitted some things have to be just given. How far does our ownership reach? We can listen to music on the radio for free, but to listen to it on our computer we have to buy it? There is a logical gap here. Yet even I will agree that a mix CD seems to be in a different category than highly expensive software, or even a complete disc of one artist’s music. But the question still remains-where do we draw the line? Should we pay for radio now? (Some of us do, and enjoy it.) Should we ban libraries, which are the closest some individuals get to having a formal education? Libraries lend music and books to people all the time. I can get a CD from the library, listen to it constantly for free and if it is worth buying, I buy my own copy. I can also download a CD from an illegal website, listen to it constantly for free, and if it is worth buying, I buy a copy. If it is not worth buying, I didn’t waste my money and the musician got some free advertising out of the deal. I don’t see how this is different from radio or the library. The article on which this paper is based claims that bands do not appreciate this as they prefer to do their own advertising. This makes me question how many musicians the author actually knows. The musicians I have been lucky enough to hang out with appreciate any and all advertisements. Can you think of any other possible reason Ozzy Osbourne would bite heads off bats? Metallica’s many court cases particularly amuse me. Music has always been about protest and double checking the status quo, from Woody Guthrie to the Sex Pistols to Christian rock. Metallica has a lawsuit every time someone says their name. They even sued Victoria’s Secret-who is going to think that Metallica the band and Metallica the perfume are the same thing? A band that gave mothers of the early nineties nightmares.
In conclusion, these things are hard to define. I have already made this paper twice as long as it needs to be, and will spare the reader details of my own philosophy of property rights except to say this: To take something that belongs to someone else, from an apple to an idea, and say that it is yours is wrong and degrades all humanity. To be touched an inspired and overjoyed by another’s creation is a love of humanity. That is the true difference, and the true line that must be drawn. We cannot force people to love truth, but those who do should not be punished for finding it-they are the one’s who know when something is worth paying for, after all.
*"plagiarism." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jun. 2007.
** Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999.