I think you'll agree that stealing is wrong. If someone takes something that belongs to you, it's both immoral and illegal. The real question here is what, exactly, is stealing... especially when it comes to "intellectual property." According to the World Intellectual Property Organization:
|Intellectual property is real.|
|Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.|
Intellectual property is divided into two categories: Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs. Rights related to copyright include those of performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings, and those of broadcasters in their radio and television programs.
So, to summarize, intellectual property includes anything from photographs to music to movies to games. For example, if you write a song, that song is your intellectual property. Unless someone else has your permission, the law limits what that person is allowed to do with your song.
"Fair Use" is the exception to the copyright law. Thanks to a wonderful little thing called freedom of speech, it's believed that we should be allow to use portions of a copyrighted work if you're critiquing or commenting on that work. For example, if you were writing a review of a new CD, you are allowed to use a short clip (not a full song) from that CD during your review. You don't have to ask the permission of the copyright holder to do this. Fair use also allows limited use of copyrighted ideas for the purpose of parody (making fun of the original).
|The truth about Fair Use.|
There are four basic checks to see if a particular situation falls under "Fair Use". (1) First, what is the purpose and character of use? Did you add anything useful or of value to the work? (2) What is the nature of the copyrighted work? For example, if the work is unpublished, you'll probably get into trouble by using it. (3) What is the amount and substantiality of the portion taken? This may be the most important one. It's illegal to use too much of, or the most important parts of, any copyrighted work. A very small clip or quote is usually acceptable. (4) Finally, what effect does the use make on the potential market? If your use will deprive the copyright owner of income, you're likely to get into trouble. Sharing a song with a friend is not considered fair use.
Stanford University has an interesting web site about Copyright & Fair Use, but you may want to go directly to the U.S. Copyright Office to read more on the topic.
As you can see, the law is really pretty clear about copyrights. If you don't own the copyrighted work, you can't copy it. That's all there is to it. You can go out and buy the work, and keep it for yourself, but unless you have the permission of the copyright owner, you cannot copy it. It's really as simple as that.
Now, please move on to section 2 -- faqs & arguments -- That's the part you really came here for.