I've recently seen two things on the BBC Web site about music piracy. The first was a blog piece written by a chap called Darren Waters who claims he stopped downloading because it became clear to him that he was "breaking the law". He was talking about the recent letters Virgin has sent out at the behest of the BPI to people suspected of downloading music.
The second was a video clip of a student accused of downloading music, including a song by Amy Winehouse. He was of course outraged, specifically at the idea he listened to Amy Winehouse, but also at the fact that he was a copyright 'thief'. He claimed that no one in his house would download that sort of stuff, and that it must have been someone using his connection from outside.
There's no real excuse for having an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, but I do have sympathy, because there is no requirement under law to lock your Wi-Fi -- and surely you can't be held accountable for what someone else does on your connection. But none of that matters to the music industry, which just wants to hunt down everyone who has ever downloaded a free MP3.
So the question is, why are Virgin, other ISPs and the government taking music downloading so seriously? When you download a track from the Internet, you aren't depriving someone of their product, which is the traditional definition of theft. In his piece, Waters claims downloading is like nicking a car, and driving around the block in it. His commenters are much more level-headed and suggest it's more like making a perfect copy of the car, without damaging it, and then driving around. Sure, it's going to annoy the motor industry, but you aren't depriving them of the ability to sell cars -- perhaps they need to address how they do business in a world where free cars are possible.
Sure, it's a complicated issue, but I really don't think it should be called 'theft' or 'piracy', because it doesn't involve stealing anything. Or ships.