Is Information Free?

July 14th, 2009 by Bob Bly

JR used to think so … but she doesn’t anymore.

In June 2009, a federal jury ruled that JR, a 23-year-old woman, violated copyright law for illegally sharing 24 copyright-protected songs she downloaded on the Internet.

The fine: $80,000 per song, for a total of $1.92 million.

Now, I’m an old school guy who takes copyright protection of intellectual property very seriously — a position the younger generation does not share.

But the punishment should be proportionate to the crime, and somewhat related to damages and intent — for instance, was it an innocent mistake, or did JR attempt to profit from the illegal file sharing?

In JR’s case, no one was hurt, and I think a small fine is in order.

That’s different than the case of the guy who posted a bootleg of the new Wolverine movie online before its theatrical release.

Producers claimed it could potentially cost them millions in lost revenues.

He could argue that it actually creates interest in the movie, but the problem is, whether to post the movie online is the studio’s decision — not his.

I see illegal use of copyrighted material online all the time.

One of my readers had cartoons posted on her blog. I asked if she obtained permission. She said NO and seemed never to have thought to do so.

What’s YOUR viewpoint on illegal copying, posting, and sharing of copyrighted material — text, images, audio, video — without permission of the owner?

A–It doesn’t matter. Distribution of their material will ultimately help their marketing.

B–It’s wrong, but not really a big deal. So what?

C–It’s a serious violation that imperils the ability of all creators of intellectual property — authors, recording artists, film studios — to realize a fair return on investment from their work


What do you think?

Source: The Record, 7/7/09.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 at 11:05 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

41 responses about “Is Information Free?”

  1. Jaky Astik said:

    Well, I don’t think it’s that a big deal. Also that you are getting marketed for free. You won’t earn for that illegally product, but there are chances you would get hooked to it and buy the next product.

  2. Bob Bly said:

    Jaky: but isn’t it MY property? The thief may justify it and say “it’s good marketing and will give you wide exposure.” But even if it is true, don’t I, as the creator, get the right to control distribution of my material?

  3. Shirley @ Solo Business Marketing said:

    To me, illegal posting of copyrighted material is a serious violation, and my attitude is shaped this way because I’m an author and creator of niche-industry material that others will post for monetary gain.

    This situation is escalating at an alarming rate, from individuals (such as the cartoons violator you mentioned, Bob) to Google Books scanning copyrighted book pages when they originally said they’d only scan out-of-copyright books.

    It’s a mess, and it will get worse as technology continues to make grabbing other people’s property easier.

  4. dianacacy said:

    I do think they went way overboard with the fines here, but I do think it’s a serious violation that people just don’t take seriously. It’s there and accessible, why can’t I just grab it?

    Music has been the worse with the ability to create CDs for your friends. I told my kids over and over how wrong it was, but I believe they both grew up never taking me seriously. It’s common…probably why they went so far with the fines on this one. Companies have been threatening for years to crack down on this problem in a major way. Guess this is it.

  5. Jim Logan said:

    C — It’s stealing. People who believe they’re helping me by taking things I’ve written and pirating them for their gain are merely trying to rationalize theft.

    I guess you’re helping the store you steal clothes from by wearing them around the community and promoting the brand.

  6. John Soares said:

    I agree with Bob: the punishment should fit the crime.

    I am very careful about using images and text from other sites, and either get permission, or, in the case of text, do fair use with proper attribution.

    I also have books that Google has posted on the Internet. My take is that they have likely lost me more sales than I have made.

  7. Jennifer Williamson said:

    As an aspiring novelist and e-book writer, I can say that I think it’s really troubling that Google seems to think all information should be free all the time. Turning good writing into “free content” completely negates the reality that somebody had to work really hard to research, compile, write and edit all that content–and people aren’t going to do it anymore if they’re not getting paid for it. Authors are an underpaid and often underappreciated group to begin with, and now that there are Kindles and Google, I have a feeling the publishing industry may soon be dealing with the same kind of troubles the music industry is already facing.

    Still, I do feel like fining someone millions of dollars for downloading music is ridiculous and only hurts the music industry’s image. There should be an easy, accessible way people can access books online if they want to, pay for them, and have most of the profits go to the writer (this makes sense, as publishers don’t have to invest a lot of money in physically printing and distributing online books).

  8. T said:

    There is a guy out there doing this right now, stealing seminars and e-books from Gary Halbert and Ted Nicholas.

    I won’t paste the URL of the thief’s site, out of respect of the victims.

  9. Lou Wasser said:

    I have to agree with Bob. The copyright laws are what protect artists and writers, and give them incentive to continue creating.

    As for the woman slapped with a million-dollar-plus fine for downloading music … the judge was obviously using her to set an example from the bench. But since she’s poor and Latina, she’s more vulnerable to “disproportionate” punishment.

    Incidentally, Bob, I just purchased another ebook from you — this one on search engine optimization. I sent you two emails to request a note giving a copy house permission for “one time” reproduction and binding rights so that I can have JUST ONE PRINTED COPY for my personal use. I hate to wear out my flimsy printer for this purpose, and am only to glad to pay the extra when I find an ebook that I like. Obviously, the copy house is protecting YOUR copyright by requiring your permission. And, as a fellow writer, I’m glad they’re doing so.

    Still, I’d like to hear from you on this.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Lou: You may print out copies, at home or at a copy shop, as long as they are for your personal use.

  11. Lou Wasser said:

    Thanks Bob:

    I appreciate it. Again, it’s simply one copy at stake here. Now if you could simply email me a note to that effect so that I can show it to the copy shop, I’d appreciate it.

  12. Phil Wrzesinski said:

    I offer a lot of information on my website for FREE, but it is clearly marked. As the creator and copyright owner, I should have full control over what I want to give away and what I want to sell. Not only is it morally and ethically wrong to take/make free copies of purchased material, it hurts everyone by keeping honest ethical people from wanting to produce such material in the future.

    Anyone who profits from stealing someone else’s intellectual property should be punished, but I believe, in the case of the woman with the CD’s, intent must be taken into consideration to make the punishment fit the crime.

  13. Chard said:

    I’ll go for choices A and C. Truly, it’s a serious violation for intelectual property owners but you must also consider the benefit that you will eventually get from all of these actions of other people. Maybe, they could set a limitation for this act. For example, a person can only use the chorus part of the song or intense part of the movie.

  14. Achinta Mitra said:

    I strongly agree with C.

    I’ll accept A if they reprint or repost with proper attributes.

  15. lesley peters said:

    I am going to choose D because I think it’s wrong to steal material from others. One of the great drawbacks of the Internet is that it’s not a place with many rules, or regulations. Most people feel that don’t have to ask permission (or give a credit to an author). It seems that we ought to be able to figure out some ways for people not to just lift material, and present it as their own.

    Is fining the way to go, or do we need some other accountability?

  16. Bill Perry said:

    I think that none of the options covers it. I think that if a person is caught, the punishment should fit the crime (for now).

    I am in the business/hobby of creating my own products as well. I think that the record companies are trying to sue their way back to the old days. The old ways are gone.

    I think that the ones that, instead of complaining and suing, instead find a way to get fairly compensated for the stuff on the internet…they’re the ones that will survive.

  17. Jeff said:


    Jaky: but isn’t it MY property? The thief may justify it and say “it’s good marketing and will give you wide exposure.” But even if it is true, don’t I, as the creator, get the right to control distribution of my material?

    Also agreed:

    I think that the ones that, instead of complaining and suing, instead find a way to get fairly compensated for the stuff on the internet…they’re the ones that will survive.


    That’s a big hypothetical “if,” as it were. And meanwhile, we have dual contradictory market expectations. The idea of (really) getting something of value for nothing used to be not reasonable, now it is seen as something some (“the younger generation”) feel entitled to?

    Has Google led the charge in this brave new paradigm? Were they not sued for what was tantamount to pirating other peoples’ labor/intellectual property? Who else is responsible for this ploy?

    A sticky dilemma: How does one conceive, create, and produce something, then give it away for no direct compensation, expecting to be compensated indirectly? It seems to defy business logic 101, and at least seems a big chance to take unless one already has deep pockets and lots of influence.

    Further, have the businesses who seem to be able to do this thus far done it ethically?

    If not, is that not coercion of others to follow in their footsteps, or drown?

  18. Fred Ramsey said:

    I have downloaded and used unlicensed software in the past, but after going into business for myself, I came to the realization that if I wanted to be compensated for my efforts, that it is wrong to expect anyone else to NOT be compensated for theirs. I have since gotten rid of all my illegal software. If I don’t own it, I won’t use it. I recently wrote a blog post about this very topic at my Positive Copy site.

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  20. Woody Funderburk said:

    Property laws are society’s way of resolving conflict over scarce resources. There is only so much land, or so much of any natural resource to go around. Society has adopted property laws to avoid conflict over the ownership of these scarce resources. These laws establish who the rightful owner shall be. I believe this should be the first person to occupy or establish a claim on the property or someone who obtained that right from the first owner through contract or inheritance. If I own a copper mine and sell you some of my copper you have ownership rights in that copper through contract. You can shape it into a bowl and sell or give it to whomever you choose and they inherit the ownership rights in that copper.

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  21. Woody Funderburk said:

    This just in:

    Lawsuit: Twitter Method Infringes Patents (

    “To the fullest extent permitted by law, plaintiff seeks recovery of damages for lost profits, reasonable royalties, unjust enrichment, and benefits received by the defendant as a result of use (sic) the misappropriated technology, and any other damages to which it may be entitled in law or in equity,”

    Twitter did not immediately respond for comment.

  22. Sheds said:

    Copyright law has always been an issue over the net. Many big companies already claimed that they actually losing huge amount of money because of this illegal activity of other individuals. Personally, it’s much better if a person who uses copyrighted material obtain permission to the owner before using for personal activity in order to avoid any legal action in the future.

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