Artist and audience alike aided by laws protecting ownership

| Tom Bengtson | December 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

We all know it is wrong to steal, but how many of us photocopy magazine articles or share computer files that are protected by copyright or trademark laws?

Illicit duplication, photocopying and file sharing happen all the time and usually no one is prosecuted for it, which is not the same as saying no one suffers because of it.

The Judeo-Christian heritage gives the artist a special place, perhaps because the first story told in the Bible is one of creation. God created, and when we create we are imitating God.

Artists — writers, painters, musicians or even software engineers — own what they create and like God, who shared what he created, artists often want to share what they make.

God and man share a relationship in which God expects people to care for what he has given them. This moral obligation is codified through civil laws that prevent pollution, mistreatment of animals, destructive farming techniques, etc.

Artist and audience share an analogous relationship, with the moral obligation for ownership recognition codified in copyright and trademark law. When ownership in this context is ignored, authors and artists are denied just compensation.

In the application of all laws, however, there needs to be common sense. For example, it would be wrong to equate the photocopying of one newspaper column in a copyrighted publication with the free distribution of 10 illegally copied songs from iTunes.

Paragraph 2408 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gets at this point when it says: “There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason.” Presumption and reason are terms of judgment and are going to vary some­­-what from person to person.

Need for prudence

Temperance is an important virtue in our have-it-all culture. All of us are called to be prudent with our resources, using them wisely to acquire the things we need and want. This prudence serves both the buyer and the seller.

Unbridled want can lead people into dark places and bad practices. If you really want another copy of that song, software program or book, then buy it. If you want it but don’t want to pay for it, then rethink your desire; maybe you don’t really want it.

Tom Bengtson writes about faith and the workplace.

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Category: Faith and the Workplace