*Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
It was Friday evening after an eight-hour shift when Hannah Goodwin,* a junior studying biology, and her boyfriend decided to watch a movie. After failing to find the movie they wanted to watch on Netflix or Hulu, they turned to a website with free movies. They sat on the couch, watched their movie and enjoyed their evening.
According to the United States Code Title 17 — the law that outlines the United States copyright law — downloading any form of media without the permission of the copyright owner violates copyright law. Other forms of infringement include streaming, reproducing or plagiarism of media or published works without the permission of the copyright owner.
Copyright law is protected under the U.S. Constitution. According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
While copyright law states that streaming movies from free sites is illegal, many individuals still do so. According to LaunchLeap, this is because individuals do not think they are committing a crime and do not think it is a big deal.
Students like Angelica Ramirez,* a sophomore studying Spanish education, do not think that streaming movies and music online is illegal. She said that since we all pay for the internet that it counts toward the music industry. To individuals like Ramirez, streaming media online is a way to save money.
Students like Benjamin Tolman, a junior studying music, say that online streaming is illegal. Tolman said BYU-I students are not thinking about their actions and just want to save a buck. He said it would be wise to consider the consequences of breaking copyright law.
According to findlaw.com, violators of copyright law won’t face jail time but must pay a fine that reimburses the copyright owner.
Fines for illegal downloading range from $750 to $300,000 per individual work. In a situation where an individual has downloaded 100 songs illegally, charges could reach as high as $30 million.
The site informed that the penalty is according to written law; individuals can be penalized differently depending on the specifics of the case.
Ramirez said she can understand why charges would be high. She said there are rules in the U.S. and that if an individual knows those rules then the consequences are fair. Ramirez said this should not be the same case with online streaming since there isn’t a clear rule under copyright law.
Tolman said illegal downloading and streaming has become such a norm at BYU-I and that students need to understand that illegal downloading and streaming shouldn’t be so acceptable. Tolman said there are consequences and that the music industry loses a lot of money.
According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, the U.S. economy loses $12.5 billion annually because of music theft. This also leads to the loss of 71,000 jobs for members in the music industry. Earnings lost to copyright infringement reach as high as $2.7 billion annually.
In order to reduce copyright infringement, BYU-I appointed Nate Wise as the intellectual property rights specialist. He said that BYU-I has done a lot to help mitigate copyright infringement.
Wise said BYU-I’s David O. McKay Library has many movies and music available for students to use. This is part of BYU-I’s effort to promote proper copyright use through their website. The site strives to provide information about the policy BYU-I has pertaining to copyrighted materials. It also provides resources that help students use copyrighted materials.
Wise said that on the BYU-I copyright website, students can find answers to the appropriate and inappropriate use of copyrighted material. Wise said that there are some individuals who do worry about copyright infringement, and this is a useful tool that provides answers.
Students like Tolman oppose illegal downloading and streaming because of the implications absent-minded downloading has on individuals and BYU-I as a whole.
Tolman quoted Christopher Adamsick’s research, “Warez” the Copyright Violation? Digital Copyright Infringement: Legal Loopholes and Decentralization, by saying that calling illegal downloading OK has individuals feeling that blurred lines are what separate general law-abiding citizens from criminals due to a blasé attitude they have about illegal media distribution in the U.S.
Ramirez has a similar view, she said that streaming content online falls under a gray area. She said this gray area makes it unclear whether streaming movies online is an illegal action that should be penalized.
“If it’s not OK then why is it online?” Goodwin said. “Why are there many sites that offer online streaming?”
Tolman said violating the copyright law is to violate the Constitution itself, and an individual’s constitutional rights. Tolman worries about what the action itself does to the perpetrators and the victims.
Tolman said he has heard individuals say, “What’s it to someone like Taylor Swift if I just download her album instead of buy it? She loses like what, 10 bucks?”
These statements disappoint Tolman.
“As a composer/songwriter, I can personally relate to how devastating having your property rights violated can be,” Tolman said.
Tolman said this issue matters, and whether an individual downloads full albums or individual tracks, the numbers add up, and the argument that artists are not losing much money is false.
“The truth is that artists are entitled to those kinds of profits,” Tolman said. “They work to improve their craft, they invest and they earn it. Any modern-day Robin Hood who argues that someone doesn’t need more money because they’re already rich fails to truly recognize the constitutional rights of that person.”