There have been many posts on this blog concerning intellectual property and copyright (see Is Stealing Music Wrong and Is Paying for Music Wrong for the the philosophical arguments). As many of you know, before leaving office George W. Bush signed the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act creating a cabinet-level copyright czar charged with implementing a nationwide plan to combat piracy. This position will function in a similar fashion as our current drug czar (the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) who is charged with implementing a nationwide plan to combat illegal distribution and consumption of drugs. The Obama administration will be the first to select a copyright czar (strangely appropriate since Biden is known for coining the term "drug czar" back in 1982 in reference to the director of the ONDCP).
A glance at our past discussions on this topic revealed a divided stance on the topic of whether or not copyright infringement, specifically dealing with digital media, constitutes theft. However, at a recent MPAA dinner Joe Biden was quoted as saying, ""It's pure theft, stolen from the artists and quite frankly from the American people as consequence of loss of jobs and as a consequence of loss of income." He continued to say that copyright infringement "strangles creative juices."
Since the copyright czar will obviously influence the shape of copyright enforcement in the United States, both sides of the copyright argument have sent letters to President Obama encouraging him to choose wisely. The content industry, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America are pushing for someone from their own ranks (an RIAA lawyer, for example) that will be sympathetic to their cause. The Copyright Alliance, along with 40 other groups representing intellectual-property holders, recently sent a letter to Obama that intellectual-property protection stimulates creativity and creates jobs.
As we often delineate in philosophy club, there is an important difference between legality and ethics. However, in our culture, politics and law are where the philosophical rubber hits the road (to quote Todd Furman). Biden has made it abundantly clear that copyright infringement is theft and that it stifles creativity. Our laws may soon reflect this view. Ethically, however, the debate continues.