I recently got into a discussion about copyright and ownership. The person was arguing that when you illegally copy an item, then the copy is owned by the original author. As such he argues that they can claim it to be theft in addition to copyright infringement.

That got me to thinking about pirated physical goods. If a factory produces an identical product such as an iPhone, selling it as such and pay no royalties to Apple. Can Apple then claim ownership of the counterfeits?

And if load a harddrive with copyrighted material, can the copyright holders claim that they own the harddrive?

This is a generic question, so I'm curious to hear what the laws are around the world.

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    The bulk of your question depends on the assumption that the assertion in the first paragraph is correct, but it is questionable at best. If you make a photocopy of a book, for example, does the copyright holder in the book actually own the paper on which the photocopy is printed? If you create a golden copy of a copyright-protected sculpture, does the sculptor own the gold? I think the answer in both cases is no.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


The owner of IP owns the abstract thing that is protected by law (the intellectual property), and not the concrete product that relied on (illegally) using that abstraction. The person who made the thing, or to whom he sold it, owns the object. If you buy a disk with pirated or non-pirated software, you own the disk, and if you bought it legally, you probably bought a license to use the software. Using "pirated" to refer to the class of things legally manufactured (not stolen, not using stolen components) but in violation of IP law, pirated goods might be subject to seizure by the government (it would be slated for destruction), but the goods would not be the subject of a prosecution for theft.

While infringement of IP rights is often called "theft", it doesn't have all of the elements of theft: you do not deprive the owner of the thing that they own.

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    Thanks, this was roughly my assumption, but I have little to no knowledge about what the laws actually look like. Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 16:37

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