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In general it is illegal to download a copyrighted file without paying the copyright owner.

But is having metadata (hash) of the copyrighted material legal?

What if I've run a program (like Mathgen) that generates random documents and at some point it generated the copyrighted material?

Another example: my program generated a two-line program extracted from pi that by chance (or perhaps not) is copyrighted (like IEFBR14 which has around 10 words). Does my program's output infringe that copyright?

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    Not an answer, but some related thoughts: I think our legal system is not prepared to handle two independently created, perfectly identical creative works that are large enough to qualify for copyright, simply because such a case appears to be astronomically exceptional. -- It is true that any information can be encoded as a number, but if you pick out a number and distribute it because its actually an encoded creative work, you're not describing a number, you're describing a creative work in an encoded format. – apsillers Aug 19 '15 at 18:38
  • It looks like you have two separate questions here: (1) Is possession of a torrent file for copyrighted IP illegal, or does it infringe any rights? (2) If I independently generate something that is copyrighted, do I have a right to it, or does it infringe? The second question has been raised and answered here. – feetwet Aug 20 '15 at 14:45
  • My understanding is you aren't committing an illegal act by downloading. It is when you distribute the files. If the files contain an EULA then installing could be breaking the license terms. That's the UK anyway. I will make a proper answer later on. – Terry Sep 9 '15 at 12:11
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    @apsillers: That's actually handled just fine. Copying is illegal, creating an identical work by coincidence isn't. If it is not a criminal case, then a court decides whether it is more likely that the identical work was created by copying or by coincidence. Creating an identical work through a random process isn't going to happen, claiming this would be an awful defense. On the other hand, it is quite possible that two software developers using very stylized code adhering to struct coding conventions can produce quite large bits of identical code. – gnasher729 Oct 11 '15 at 0:47
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Copying is illegal, creating an identical work by coincidence isn't. If it is not a criminal case, then a court decides whether it is more likely that the identical work was created by copying or by coincidence. Creating an identical work through a random process isn't going to happen, claiming this would be an awful defense. On the other hand, it is quite possible that two software developers using very stylized code adhering to struct coding conventions can produce quite large bits of identical code.

Your links titled "metadata" and "hash" don't actually link to a description of metadata, or the description of a hash, but to a description of torrent files, which is something totally different. Systematically distributing files whose only purpose is the illegal duplication of copyrighted works should not be done without consulting a lawyer, as has been said on other threads (whether posting links to copyrighted files is legal).

The chances that a random process will generate a file identical to an existing copyrighted file of say over 100 bytes are virtually zero. If there is an illegal copy of a copyrighted file, and you claim that you created it through a random process and coincidence, you will lose, and deservedly so.

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I've been contemplating on this for several years already. No one could give a clear answer. What I have concluded is that this question only shows the overall sillyness of digital copyrighting, because essentially digital information does not belong and cannot be forbidden to reproduce. The instinct of ownership is not really applicable in the digital world, and the desire to grab and claim for yourself as much as possible does not really work here. Really, you can have authorship, like in science where theoremes and laws are named after people who first presented them to the public, that's all.

In fact, any lawyer can accuse you as well as justify basing on his personal mood and opinion. After all, lawyers are never scientists, so how can they know that they misunderstand something fundamental like math or physics.. but it is funny that these people will be the ones to effectively judge you. To be blamed for having a sequence of bytes is like being crucified and burned for saying that the Earth is a sphere that rotates around the Sun in the past times. At the same time anyone who understands the science enough can never blame you in the name of digital copyright. But that does not save some people from the craving that someone else is having good times with their sequence of bytes, and that's where lawyers will come to his aid, take his money and just do what they do, like mercinaries.

The notion of prohibiting copying comes from the instinct of ownership when there was only stealing and no copying. Like, you can steal someones plant, that's bad, but what about growing a similar plant? That was never in question.

Prohibiting this is like prohibiting a sequence of actions because this particular sequence is reserved for someone else, not because it brings in some real problems. Imagine that you have found out that drinking coffee with a sandwitch is tasty and joyful. Imagine you will be arrested for doing this because some big restaurant patented this as their sequence of receiving a particular result.

So the ultimate answer to this question is that our society and economy are not yet ready to realize the truth of digital information and there is no point at which such a file becomes illegal. And there cannot ever be any social law that will adequately define such a point - you might just as well define it as arbitrary as you want. The only factor that matters is the personal opinions and attitudes of the involved lawyers and their ability to tie it with the existing state laws.

A nice quote by E. O. Wilson fits well: "The essence of humanity's ... dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another."

  • There's an answer to this question, and this isn't really a good one. Look at this question if you need some inspiration. – jimsug Sep 9 '15 at 11:38
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    @jismug: yes, I've read that answer. While it describes the possible effective legal consequences very well, it does not answer the original question. It is not scientifically possible to prove if a sequence of bytes was produced by a RNG or not, especially, if you include some physics in your RNG, basing the program outcome on some EM static or quantum effects. Thus, any decision is restricted to be solely opinion-based. The comments by dwoz and gracey209 confirm that. – noncom Sep 9 '15 at 11:51
  • After all, lawyers are never scientists - be honest, were you drunk when you wrote that? – jqning Sep 9 '15 at 12:48
  • In real life, it would probably be acceptable to simply always rule against claims of randomly generated texts. This will probably result in an incorrect verdict much, much less often than the verdict already comes back wrong due to other factors. You think the court system has a success rate of 99.99%? If you've got 100 words to choose from and want to make a text of any 10 words, and a billion 10-word texts already copyrighted, your odds of getting an exact match are still only 1 in 100 billion. The court system would need a success rate of 99.999999999% to worry about this problem at all. – Patrick87 Sep 22 '15 at 14:04
  • @Patrick87: Yeah, that's how the life is now, absurd. The court system does not have to have the success rate close to 100% just like, for example, planes do not have to be safe enough to not crash in 100% of the cases. If you study, respect and learn to obide natural laws more, you are more likely to construct a never-crashing plane, but who cares, right? No one guarantees that 100% of the passengers reach their destinations. Even more absurd, let theory apart, I, as a programmer, can write a program that will derive any given copyrighted data from a random seed received from air. Silly. – noncom Sep 22 '15 at 21:20

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