My wife sometimes observes (very nicely!) inconsistencies in my driving. For example, I’m considerate of others wanting to merge into traffic, but will ‘lane-hop’ to save a few seconds. In our humanity, we probably all relativise some choices and live with some degree of dissonance, but we nevertheless cross a line when our behaviour is illegal. This is especially important for Christians who are taught to obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7).
One of the most common forms of illegal behaviour for decent and otherwise good people seems to concern piracy. Illegal downloads, copying of music and DVDs and swapping files between friends all breach copyright unless there are terms permitting sharing or unless the material is otherwise unavailable. (Although the National Library told me I could not even have a full photocopy of a book that was unavailable for purchase anywhere in the world, which I’m sure is wrong advice).
Not paying for copyrighted material is surely theft, given that the artists, designers or owners are then deprived of their rightful royalties. If we can’t afford it, then surely we don’t have the right to own it! If we are given it by a friend then we surely can’t blame them for what we wilfully accept.
I agree with some that, if material is freely available on websites then the authorities should deal with those at the source and users can’t be responsible for accessing them. Youtube clips are easily viewable, for instance, and it is not reasonable for the average person to determine whether copyright applies. However, downloading movies and music that are available but illegally supplied is surely being an accessory to a crime. Copying DVDs from a video library to ‘watch later’ and then (‘oops’!) inadvertently keeping them, doesn’t cut it. On the other hand, purchasing a cheap outdated VHS video and converting it to DVD is simply transferring a legitimately purchased licence to a more usable back up form, provided that the original is not passed on or extra copies made and distributed. In the end, even giveaways are wrong where copyright is breached, because the non-purchase of the relavant item has still resulted in theft.
Whilst we don’t want a police state of busybodies and ‘dobbers’, it is probably helpful to encourage friends and relatives to think twice about the implications of behaviours that are often carried out without much consideration. Maybe this seems as if a mountain is made of a molehill, but too many molehills in life pile-up to a mountain of a problem in the end.