Starbucks and Internet Piracy

A woman on a talk radio show admitted to stealing sugar packets from her local Starbucks.

But she expressed no shame.

Indeed, she felt the theft was justified by the outrageous prices Starbucks charges for a cup of coffee, calling her pilfering a “condiment subsidy.”

What does this have to do with Internet piracy?

People’s willingness to steal online and violate copyright is determined by two primary factors:

1. How easy it is to steal the material.

2. How much you are charging for your content or software in relation to its value.

If it’s difficult and inexpensive to steal the material, they’ll just buy a legal copy.

For instance, few people avoid purchasing a dictionary by photocopying the pages, because it’s a pain in the neck, inconvenient, and expensive to do so.

If the consumer feels your product is a rip-off, they will be more inclined to pirate it. Example: an outrageously priced new version of a software package in which the upgrade merely eliminates defects that should never have been in the old version in the first place.

People will download a song illegally even when they can do so legally at a reasonable price simply because it is so easy.

Reader, do YOU every violate copyright and steal material online for any of the above reasons or for any other reasons?

Do you agree that to do so is stealing and robbing the creator of the profit from intellectual property she created?


113 thoughts on “Starbucks and Internet Piracy

  • Stealing, like beauty, (to some) is in the eye of the beholder. I have always found that honesty really is the best policy. Whenever I want to use something I find online, I ask. I’m never been turned down when I have asked.

    When my son started downloading music, he briefly used sites that I knew were illegal. I explained that it wasn’t right and the actual cost of downloading the same stuff from iTunes was minimal. He deleted all the illegal stuff and I got the bill for the legal substitute. He learned a good lesson that I hope he follows in the future. Honesty also comes in handy when setting an example for your kids.


  • My father’s favorite saying was “Honesty is the best policy.” When we were kids we found it charming and old-fashioned, but now my sister and I absolutely live by it.

    I am not the most successful author, copywriter, or online publisher in the world — far from it — but people know that when I say or write something, it is always the unvarnished truth as I see it.

  • Hi Bob,

    Excellent question!

    Being a musician and musical arranger as well as a writer, I find myself thinking about how easy many copyright violations can be. From the perspective of one who creates, pouring thoughts, hard work, and emotion into a piece, I would never think of stealing off the Internet, simply because I’m aware of how much effort a composer, writer, or artist (usually) puts into his or her creation.

    Unfortunately, although there are some laws covering intellectual property theft, it’s still too easy for someone to illegally download a song, graphic, etc., as you pointed out. Not only is it stealing profit, but it’s a bit of a slap in the face, as if to say, “Hey artist, I’m taking your latest painting and there’s nothing you can do about it!” (Even if the piece is a rip-off, it may still be taken. Some thieves probably steal just for the thrill – they don’t care about quality.)

    This, of course, begs the question of retail space on the Internet and its overall security. Should more webmasters learn how to block free downloading, whether it’s legal or not? (My answer: Yes.) Should artists, composers, and writers be relegated to the traditional, non-web-based modes of getting work in front of prospective buyers/patrons? (My answer: No.)

    Thanks for the forum and the great site!


  • Some people come up with what appears to be rational justifications for what amounts to stealing–e.g., because of company X’s alleged outrageous prices, etc.

    When I was young and the home video industry was new, I used to dub copies of recently released movies. I had “The Empire Strikes Back” on video tape and was selling it to high school classmates within days of its release in the theater. I was making money off my illegally dubbed copy of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indy was still globe trotting on the big screen. Was all this wrong? I didn’t think so at the time. My reasoning? “They can afford it! They make millions on the movie!” My warped thinking didn’t make it less wrong.

    Recently, I had an illegal copy of software installed on my computer. I got it because it was given to me by a friend. I knew I hadn’t paid for it, but I used it because it was so useful. Only after constant conviction did I finally just delete the thing from my computer. I felt that none of my copywriting efforts would be blessed or bear legitimate fruit were I to incorporate elements of something I had obtained illegally as part of the process or outcome.

    Any form of stealing of intellectual property is robbing the creators of the profit related to their efforts–even from people whom we think “can afford it” or who “charge too much.” Stealing from companies that you think have wronged you in some way doesn’t make your wrong act any less wrong. And then there’s that old human saying: Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

  • A relative of ours took sugar and Sweet & Low and rolls & butter (yes, in her purse) from restaurants. It’s a sickness, I came to think — a sense of impoverishment that only leads to more impoverishment.

    Another good rule of thumb — if you wouldn’t want to see a story about you doing on Page 1 of tomorrow’s newspaper, don’t do it!

    Good question, Bob.
    (Brought back memories. I always associated sugar-stealing with the elderly! Obviously it’s age-group non-dependent.)

  • I can do you one better, Sponge: we have friends who would bring an empty gym bag and aluminum foil with them when they went to Sizzler. Whatever they didn’t finish, they took home. Of course, they somehow loaded their plates several times and never finished, so they took home a lot. The husband seemed sincerely puzzled when I questioned this practice. “It’s all you can eat,” he told me, totally serious. “It’s all you can eat AT THE RESTAURANT,” I corrected him. “Not all you can carry.”

  • A gym bag!
    I’m sensing a level of Hell in Dante’s inferno for that kind of behavior.
    Condemned to stuffing their faces endlessly with purloined grub.
    And aren’t they just always “sincerely puzzled” (!) when questioned about it all?!

    SpongeBob in his innocence is incapable of any treachery or thievery.
    He is a worthy role model for all!

  • In Canada, downloading music is currently “legal.” This is related to the blank media levy instituted in Canada in 2004.

    I think many people in Canada would put the word legal in quotation marks as I have done.

    Interestingly, the law seems to state that music downloading is legal, but is less clear on movie downloading.

  • Bob,

    I just read Rebecca Lieb’s ClickZ article, “Good Content in Bad Places,” ( about content theft and what to do about it. Then I recapped her instructions on my weblog, clearly crediting her article as the source, linking back to it and putting quotes around the one verbatim snippit.

    The line between legitimate commentary, like my weblog, and content theft gets blurred when people reprint articles verbatim without crediting the source or worse, scrape other websites for keyword-rich content, then publish it as a blog full of ad revenue-generating mish-mash. I’ve seen many of my own articles on such atrocities.


  • I too believe that it’s the way you handle it. In my mind it all boils down into ethics.

    If you’re writing an article about a specific subject, and want to include someone else’s ideas, quote them and give them proper attribution, then it works well; just as it does in print. But when you take others ideas as your own, well that kind of crosses the line…

    What is it about the internet that allow people to feel as though it’s OK to do things that they might not do otherwise?

  • Great blog. I really liked it. I have also created a lens in same niche. This is my first time , hope u guys like it. Here’s a brief intro: There are a clear indication that DVD decrypter programs are used in a bad manner such as making illegal copies of movies for sale. But are you aware that there are actually legal situations that allow you to create copies of the movies you own on DVD? With most movies costing close to$20 each it is quite easy to see why people look for anything they canto help reduce replacement costs. For more details:

  • I agree with you, though one could argue the correct answer is: if you are not willing to abide by the conditions imposed and clearly disclosed by the seller, don’t buy his DVD. If I found this out after I bought and the seller refused to refund my money, then I could see making an illegal copy.

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