Minute Meme #1: Copying Is Not Theft

UPDATE: high res video file now on archive.org.

This is a “draft” of our (my and QuestionCopyright.org‘s) first Minute Meme. A draft because the audio track is a placeholder, and we’re eager to hear what all you musicians out there can do with it. Also a draft because we need to make a fancier, more informative page than just this post here! But what is the Internet for, if not to hastily post creative work by the seat of your pants?

There are some blank credits at the end for “Arranged and Recorded by” and “Sound Design.” Any interested musicians/sound designers can re-release the whole thing with their own tracks and appropriate credits. Add and remove credits as needed (but don’t remove mine!). If you don’t add sound effects, cut out the “Sound Design” card; if you want to credit additional voices, add a card for them. I used the fonts Gill Sans and Gill Sans Ultra Bold. Be sure to keep the CC-BY-SA symbols on all the credits – you’ll be releasing your modifications under the same license.

Here are the lyrics:

Copying is not theft.
Stealing a thing leaves one less left
Copying it makes one thing more;
that’s what copying’s for.

Copying is not theft.
If I copy yours you have it too
One for me and one for you
That’s what copies can do

If I steal your bicycle
you have to take the bus,
but if I just copy it
there’s one for each of us!

Making more of a thing,
that is what we call “copying”
Sharing ideas with everyone
That’s why copying

This track is 90 (or 180) beats per minute. The animation is 24 frames per second, with one beat every 8 frames.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

40 thoughts on “Minute Meme #1: Copying Is Not Theft”

  1. There’s a website out there dedicated to remixing songs, and they have a built-in tool to do it. I figure maybe someone out there might be able to use it for the purpose of this song.

  2. I’ll take a stab at music-ifying that. I’ve got a rough draft done but I don’t really know anything about video editing yet (or currently have much time to learn), so I might just send you suitable audio tracks and let you patch it together at your end.

  3. You might want to send in those “Minute Memes” as entries for the Belgian “1-Minute Film & Sound Awards” (an event related to the Leffinge Leuren Music Festival) once applications for next year’s edition are open. 🙂

    The 30 best movies get played in a loop during the whole festival (17000 visitors in 2009) and the 3 best get a monetary prize (1250/750/500 euro in 2009).

    OTOH, the jury consists of professional musicians & movie/TV-makers, not sure all of them will like these Minute Meme… 😛

    (Still worth a try though!)

  4. Here is a great little essay Steve Albini wrote entitled “Music Is Free”:

    My long experience with bands and musicians has taught me that they
    understand their place in the world pretty well. They also understand
    that music is (always has been) free to consume. If you play your
    radio, it costs nothing to listen. If you walk by an open window while
    someone is playing an album, it costs nothing. If you stand outside a
    club and listen, it costs nothing. Music is free. Musicians often sing
    and play informally (get this!) just for fun.

    Records, concert tickets and the use of music in commerce — those
    things cost money.

    The primary relationship that drives all parts of the music business
    is the relationship between a band and its audience. Record retailers,
    labels, producers, managers, lawyers, promoters and other parasitic
    professionals all subsist on whatever money they can siphon off of
    this fundamental relationship. Mechanical and broadcast royalties (the
    royalties supposedly “lost” through file sharing) are the part of this
    transaction that is least efficient in getting money to the artist
    because most of it is siphoned-off by the rest of the music industry.
    Of a $15 sale, the average band stuck on a major label may not receive
    a single penny, and amortized over the life of a release may receive
    (after all the other players take their rake) a buck or so.

    I should note that entrepreneurial independent labels that operate on
    a profit-sharing model can be an order of magnitude more efficient,
    and that one of the efficiencies is the lack of promotional outlay
    required because fan file sharing does the promotion for free.

    In short, these “lost” royalties are a huge part of the revenue stream
    of the institutional part of the mainstream music business, but a
    miniscule part of the income of a band.

    Almost universally, bands and musicians are happy anyone is interested
    in their music enough to become a fan, and they know there are many
    opportunities to do some business with such a person that may or may
    not involve selling him a particular record.

    They also recognize that a download by someone unwilling to buy a
    record is not a “lost sale,” because that person has made it clear
    that he is unwilling to buy a record. You haven’t lost a sale, you’ve
    made a fan for free. Fans eventually want to buy records, concert
    tickets and other things.

    A single sale = a small bet.
    A lifetime fan = a huge pot.

  5. Copying isn’t theft? Tell that to my English teacher. I could have gotten better grades on every last one of my term papers had I been allowed to just copy someone else’s paper and sign my name to it.

  6. You are confusing copying with plagiarism. You can freely copy a Shakespeare play and other Public Domain works, but if you sign your name to it you are a plagiarist. Copying is not theft, nor is it plagiarism; theft is theft, and plagiarism is plagiarism. Maybe another English class is in order.

  7. Hi Nina

    What is your position on downloading and watching “big studio” films illegally on the internet?


  8. Theft is an interesting word. Sure, the person you’re copying the movie from hasnt lost their copy, but it certainly is a lost sale from the creator.

    How do you expect artists who work in large studios to get compensated if people stop going to movies or buying/renting DVDs or acquire some other form of legally downloaded media?

  9. Elan, 19th century industrial revolution stolen money from handwork workers. Do you think machines had to be forbidden then?

  10. Elan: Theft is defined as depriving someone of their property without their consent. The studios are not being deprived of anything if you copy their movies and give them away–they still have their original copy.

    As to your question of how the artists are supposed to be compensated, ask Nina about that. You are trying justify the use of the law to prop up an out-dated business model. “Potential loss” is not “demonstrable loss.”

    Copying is not theft. Period.

  11. This line of reasoning is absolute nonsense. First of all most of the opensource community wants freebies. I think small percentage of the opensource community are programmers. I support copyright laws 100% there too many thieves and plagiarizers out there. Imagine if you made a graphic novel and some jerk stole your manuscript put their name on it profited from your hard work.
    Your so called creative commons license is a form of copyright. Nice try on questioning the copyright. There are too many dishonest people out there. I’d rather have the ironclad protection of a trademark than the a flimsy creative commons and faith in a fickle society! Not to mention Sega Dreamcast went out of business because it was easy to make copies of Sega Dreamcast games. Sounds like the anthem of bootleggers and pirates. Pirate should use this as their meme!

  12. Luna: you might be falling into the trap of “all copyright infringement should be lumped together because it’s illegal, therefore it’s bad, and therefore it should be illegal”. Also, statements like “Sega Dreamcast went out of business because it was easy to copy SD games” are questionable- we don’t actually know that, because we don’t know the extent to which the copying eroded sales. The low sales could have come about for a host of other reasons as well. And no, copying isn’t theft, for the reasons Nina gives, it is a much murkier issue, morally speaking.

    The advantages of copying: people get to “share” more, consumer welfare increases, and the copying generates extra product exposure which can lead to extra sales in the long run. The disadvantage: when people receive copies of products as a substitute for buying them, sales are lost, and we need to offset that against the pros.

    Copying is a murky issue when you look closely. I seriously doubt that a modest amount of noncommercial “casual copying” (ironically the form of copying that most DRM is aimed to prevent) has a significant impact on sales one way or the other, but the en-masse stuff is a bigger threat, and commercial copying even more so.

    We have to be VERY careful of being brainwashed into accepting that “copying is theft”. Is it theft to play 3-player games of “Scrabble” since 2 players benefit from Scrabble for free? Most would think that argument absurd, but thanks to DRM, that same argument is routinely applied to multiplayer PC gaming. “Copying is theft” is an argument that can be abused to argue for using DRM technologies to criminalise forms of copying that used to be legal, taking copyright away from its original aim (encouraging content creators to continue producing for the benefit of everyone) and towards being a way for powerful companies to stealthily push consumers into paying more for less.

  13. Hello Nina,
    I’d like to typeset and publish a score of the song under a copyleft license, using free software. Please take a look to the following:

    % music & words by Nina Paley
    % typeset in LilyPond (.org) by Francisco Vila

    \new Staff \relative f {
    e’8 e e4 g e
    c4 r r2
    \addlyrics { Cop — y — ing is not theft, }

    and so on. I’d like to adjust the lyrics and the music as faithfully as possible to your original. A MIDI is trivial to obtain from this, using the same tool (namely LilyPond). Both the PDF and the source document would be at your disposition, I only would maintain it as needed from time to time. Please let me know what do you think.

    Greetings from Spain,

  14. When someone downloads a film or game from the internet, that does not mean a sale lost. Probably the person had no intention of buying the game or film in the first place.

    The stupidity of most companies is that they don’t allow people to pay what they want. Imagine a game costing 50$, some people can’t afford that. But they only have 2 options: get it for free or pay 50$. Yet if you allow people to pay what they want, people are more likely to pay, because they have more choice in how much they pay.This is a proven business model, as I am sure Nina can attest. You can also check: http://www.humblebundle.com/

  15. Wow. Just wow.

    When I stumbled on this page, I assumed you were posting those lyrics because they were so absurd and you wanted visitors to see the ridiculous attitudes of the copying-is-fine community. But you are actually SUPPORTING this view?

    When you copy a song or movie or whatever, you are “stealing” the creators’ rights to control (and get compensated for) the distribution of the thing they created. Period. If they want to make it free, they can; if they don’t, it’s not yours to take.

    Someone above quoted an essay that said, in part, “You haven’t lost a sale, you’ve made a fan for free. Fans eventually want to buy records, concert tickets and other things.” Funny thing about that – if they can download music for free [= stealing], then why on earth would they ever want to “buy records”??

    I get the feeling you all realize this and would just rather not think about the moral aspects of your stance. Since it is so easy and tempting to copy songs and movies and such, I know it will continue to happen, but don’t comfort yourselves by viewing it as something other than intellectual theft.

  16. This is a very one dimensional view of this problem. Copying a bycicle is nothing that contains creative energy and work (otherwise it is patent protected). With a piece of music, painting or poetry this is entirely different. What about someone who sat down several days, weeks, months or even years working on a piece of Art? What if this was copied by hundreds, thousands, millions…etc? Imagine you were one of these “creators”? Would you still be so “happy” to live in a world where copying anything in any numbers is approved? I wouldnt have thought so.
    It’ s great for publicity and spreading your stuff simply if you are using this as a vehicle for marketing…

  17. Nina Paley is a wonderfully talented artist, and I wish her nothing but continued success in her artistic pursuits. However, the “copying is not theft” argument is just not thought out at all. You cannot possibly analyze property correctly until you appreciate the difference between consumer goods and capital goods. Period.

    Listening to a song is like riding a bike. Copying a song is like going into the bike factory and running the assembly line. The new bicycle does not deprive other people the ability to ride bikes. So what? That is not the issue. The issue is whether you had permission to use the factory or not. Bicycles can indeed be copied. Does this mean that neither bicycles nor bicycle factories can be owned?

    Pursuit of the truth of this intellectual property argument DOES require thought and study.


  18. In response to Alexander Baker’s comment:

    >Listening to a song is like riding a bike. Copying a song is like going into the bike factory and running the assembly line.

    No, it isn’t. You would be trespassing and using the bicycle factory’s equipment.

    >The new bicycle does not deprive other people the ability to ride bikes. So what? That is not the issue. The issue is whether you had permission to use the factory or not.

    You aren’t using the music company’s computer when you copy a song, you would be using your own computer, ideally.

    >Bicycles can indeed be copied. Does this mean that neither bicycles nor bicycle factories can be owned?

    Bicycles cannot be copied. The plans for a bicycle can be copied, and a ‘copy’ of the bicycle can be made from that. You must note, however, that the copy is made from separate physical parts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *