We should stop using the words “theft” and “stealing” when talking about unlicensed use of intellectual property. Those words should be reserved for physical property, for things limited by scarcity.

A bunch of the news coverage of Oracle v Google talks about Google “stealing” Java or the “theft” of Oracle’s intellectual property. It is common to talk about downloading music or video as “stealing” or “piracy”. That language is prejudicial. What Oracle is really claiming is that Google has used some of its patents and copyrighted material without a license. Downloading Game of Thrones is not “theft”, it’s “unlicensed use”.

I think copyrights and (appropriate) patents are important; I’ve made my own living by creating intellectual property. One of the great challenges of the Information Age is figuring out how to control intellectual property. But applying 3000+ years of physical property law to intellectual property doesn’t make sense. When I take your cow, I deprive you of the use of your cow. When I copy a song I don’t deprive anyone of the song. Intellectual property is fundamentally different from physical property. We should use different words when describing their misuse.

  2012-04-19 16:07 Z