I know the question sounds mundane and perhaps even silly at first glance, but, consider it for a moment.

Our qualm with piracy seems to be premised with some notion of loss at the owners/business' expense. Every study I've read calculating loss by software piracy presupposes that, without piracy, every transgressor would have bought the software (particularly the BSA). Additionally, we cannot deny businesses have all the litigious incentive in the world to pursue the highest estimates of damages

Now, by definition piracy is generally

The illegal duplication and distribution of copyrighted files (US Legal, Inc)...

By definition of loss/theft, how is one deprived of their software if the "crime" is only the duplication of said software? How is there loss when the owner(s) not only still own the original piece of the software, but only dealt with general expenses of management, coding, advertisement, et cetera, and not any expenses of the duplication? There is some exception when it comes to physical copies such as video games at stores, for example, in my opinion, because there are direct expenses keeping those games on shelves, producing cases and discs, et cetera.

If we consider even a copy of software [without consent] a form of theft and therefore loss, then would it not be theft for me to legally license software and then duplicate another file of it? After all, even though I licensed the software I still made a duplicate without consent, yes?

  • 6
    Copyright infringement isn't theft from the legal point of view. It's often called theft for rhetorical purposes, to try to stop people from doing it. Feb 19, 2019 at 16:17
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    There are plenty of things that are called "theft" without involving physically removing anything from the owner - many jurisdictions have the concept of "theft of service", for example.
    – user4210
    Feb 19, 2019 at 19:21
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    @Moo I never said theft required physical loss, only that it requires some deprivation of property, physical or not. In the case of "theft of services", the expense of loss is financial as well as loss of time/labour. The same cannot be said about software piracy, by the conjunction of the definition of loss and the definition of duplication.
    – user581844
    Feb 19, 2019 at 20:52
  • I disagree, in many cases theft of service is very similar to software piracy. Accessing premium broadcast TV (satellite etc) without paying has no additional financial or labour costs for the broadcast company for example. The issue is that the initial cost of production for these things is high, but the unit cost is trivially low, so people fixate on the unit cost and ignore the other costs.
    – user4210
    Feb 19, 2019 at 22:41
  • @Moo, I think you're confusing the point of the question here. I am not denying many forms of theft exist regarding digital services. However, I am trying to say, that, based on the main definitions involved none of these should be considered theft, legally. I stress that they currently are considered theft, but I argue they should not be.
    – user581844
    Feb 19, 2019 at 22:43

2 Answers 2


It isn’t theft

Theft requires depriving the legal owner of possession permanently.

In concept it’s closer to fraud than theft, however, copyright violation is its own crime - neither theft nor fraud.

In casual usage, you can call it theft if you like - or pomegranate, or Howard. Whatever gets your point across.


Copyright violation (which is what most "software piracy" is) isn't theft. Breech of contract (which some software piracy also is) is also not theft. Both violate the law, and give occasion for a civil action. Copyright infringement can also be treated as a crime, but it very rarely is.

Copyright infringement may cause a financial loss to the copyright holder. It may also deprive the rights-holder of control to which s/he is legally entitled, even if there is no direct financial loss.

Not every unauthorized copy would have been a sale, but some would have been, or might have been.

There is a general theory that the creator of a work has the right to control how it is used or copied, within limits, and the right to sell or give away or rent that privilege. Not everyone agrees with that theory, but that is the law at present.

Buying a copy of a piece of software (or more exactly buying a license to use it) and then making and giving or selling an additional copy or copies to others does infringe copyright. (In US law there is a specific right to make a backup copy for one's own use if the software was acquired legally.)

There is expense and effort that goes into creating software, or prose, or art. This is recouped and profited on by selling copies. Making copies without consent may hinder this, and in any case deprives the creator or rights-holder of legitimate control. It also may give the infringer a profit to which s/he is not entitled.

  • Back in the day, I had relatives who had a strong opinion that in a record store they paid for the physical CD, and the case, and the pretty picture on the case, and not for the music on it. They would never, ever in their life steal a physical CD from a record store. That would be a crime. On the other hand, if they paid for a blank CD and found someone willing to copy music onto it, that was absolutely fine to them. The CD was paid for, the copier didn't charge, so nobody was hurt. So convincing people that this process is "theft" is not a bad strategy.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 27, 2020 at 12:40

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