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The Internet: Americans have gone from loving a good deal to loving a good steal


I've been thinking about stealing lately.

No, not as in "Hey, let's go rob a bank."

Rather, as in "Why are so many people doing it"?

Call it the Rise of the Cyberthief: Several Times articles recently have reinforced my belief that Americans have gone from loving a good deal to loving a good steal.

Exhibit A: The editorial board weighed in on the nonpayment of state taxes on online purchases in the aptly titled "Are you an online tax cheat?"

The howling started immediately. No new taxes, some shouted, ignoring the fact that these aren't new taxes but rather ones that are legally supposed to be collected.

Then came the rationalizations from commenters, such as:

Rupertoc: I love to buy from Amazon. It is the only way to kick it to the man. Maybe when California is more responsible with the way they spend our money, I will consider paying use  tax. Who has my back  when the legislators are selling out to the unions? No one!!! I have no way to protect myself, so buying from Amazon is the only way for me to fight back.

jake_c: I proudly bought my 3G iPad in NH w cash. Try collecting those taxes. My kids shop for school clothes and supplies in Oregon every summer tax free. 

Now, I doubt these commenters tell a supermarket clerk or a restaurant waiter that they pay enough in taxes, thank you very much, so take that bill and shove it. 

In cyberspace, though, no one can stop you from screaming.

But, you protest, it's not like we're a bunch of pirates.

Ahem, Exhibit B:

In "Dust-Up:  How big a risk does piracy pose to the entertainment industry?" Andrew Keen, the advisor to Arts and Labs, a coalition of entertainment and technology companies, debated Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based advocacy group that frequently opposes the entertainment industry on copyright issues.

Basically, Feld argues that online piracy is like shoplifting –- just another cost of doing business.

A point Keen doesn't, well, buy, arguing that 9 million illegal downloads of the movie "The Social Network" alone represent a slightly bigger deal than stealing some gum from a 7-Eleven.

And what did the readers say?

On the artists' side is this commenter:

Kat: I find it utterly disconcerting that some would rationalize theft just because it's easy. And that so many would steal just because they can.

To which commenter Julian profoundly responded:

Dear World,

There is no 'LAW' on the Internet. It is a new frontier prime for colonization, as the new world was centuries ago.

No word from Julian on where we can find a Web Wyatt Earp. But I'm sure he'll get back to us on that, just as soon as he finishes watching "The Social Network," which, of course, only a chump would pay for.

Although commenter Rockin Roddy offers this economic model:

Ten cents a download...a dollar for an album. Try that and see the dent that you put in piracy. You'll sell more and lose less.

Roddy, perhaps a descendant of a robber baron, obviously works for $1 a day at whatever job he's lucky enough to have.  Plus, I'm willing to bet he's not one who's paying that silly online sales tax.

Finally, Exhibit C, and one a bit closer to my heart.

The New York Times has decided to establish a paywall for its online content. It's an interesting concept:  A newspaper spends millions of dollars to pay people to go out and report the news. And, oh what the heck, it would like to get paid for that.

How did cyberspace respond? Yep. 

David M. Kinchen, Northern Illinois University: Pay, no way...O Canada! see you on Facebook and Twitter

Joy May-Harris, Florida A&M University: Pay for the NYTimes on the web? Nope. Not happening.

Now, I can understand red-state conservatives wanting the New York Times to shrivel up and die. But liberal lefty university types won't pay? Instead they'll use Twitter to go around the paywall and, well, steal the content?   

Hey, I have an idea, professor: How about I come sit in your classroom for free? You can teach as a hobby. I mean, you could even stream your lectures on the Internet if that makes you feel better. Just don't ask me to pay for that either.

You can rationalize it all you want. The simple fact is, stuff people wouldn't think of doing in the real world, they're casually doing in cyberspace.

And you can call this stuff -- the tax cheating, the pirating, the hacking of websites -- whatever you like, but if it walks like a thieving duck and quacks like a thieving duck, sorry but it's a (Web)footed thieving duck.


Should the entertainment industry accept piracy as a cost of doing business?

What's the true impact of illegal downloading on jobs and the arts?

Seizing domain names without COICA

Righthaven: Copyright lawsuits as a business model

Anti-piracy enforcement vs. a functional Internet

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: USC student Elizabeth, 19, watches an episode of HBO's "Entourage" on her laptop at home in Los Angeles. Streaming video sites let viewers see pirated shows with the click of a mouse. Credit: Christina House / For The Times


Comments () | Archives (10)

The comments to this entry are closed.


So, when people get together and vote to steal other peoples money it is OK with the author, even if the elections are bought and paid for by the unions.

When the court forces you to work without pay as in jury duty couldn't you call that slavery, or since it is the government, is it OK with the author.

Seems like the author lets government get away with anything, as long as they pass a law.


Liberals had up until now argued that the sales tax is "regressive," that poor and rich pay the same rate. Gee, what a change in attitude when it's your little dahling's classroom size increasing by a few students.

Michael Roberts

The state of California has never enforced collection of use taxes. Nor could it, without California citizens booting out any politician who dared to attempt to enforce such a universally reviled and disregarded tax law.

When I buy something from *out-of-state*, I obviously have no problem telling the store that I won't pay California sales tax. Because I don't owe it. And neither does the store I bought it from.

Buying goods and services *in California* is very different. Most people accept the validity of sales tax, since a sale made by a store *in the state* is legitimately taxable. By contrast, a sale made from a store *out of the state* is not legitimately subject to sales tax. Neither is a gimmicky attempt to replicate sales tax by an unworkable, unenforceable, and thoroughly irrelevant "use tax."

Put another way, it's not the Internet that's the issue. It's the fact that the contract is contracted with an entity outside of state lines. California has no more claim to tax that for Internet sales than orders by mail.


It would appear the Times has decided to launch a series of opinion pieces to demand government regulation of the web. Use taxes, Intellectual theft, etc- the only solution must be government regulation of the internet.
How predictably tyrannical. The media outlets are owned by the same people that use government and law to tax us to death, while they send their money to tax havens in the Caymens and the Isle of Man.
How dare you debt slaves work around their laws and debt devices! Wealth is for the wealthy. The only ones allowed to profit from the law are the ones we write for ourselves!
Original law for patents and copyrights-8 years. Of course, Disney was more important than the Constitution.

P J Evans

It's certainly interesting that there's a suddden increase in politicians wanting to tax Internet businesses, even as they refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy (even to the low levels of the 1990s).
I suspect they don't want us to notice that they're not doing anything about the economy.

Chris Castle

You forgot something on the line "Streaming video sites let viewers see pirated shows with the click of a mouse". These "streaming video sites" sell advertising, often "Ads by Google". It's not about magic, it's about money. Any ideas what the CPMs are for sites like Megaupload or Hotfile that are in the top 100 websites in the world?


Dear Mr. Whitefield

Since you are obviously a strict adherent of law, can I assume you are in direct opposition to the La Raza Times general stance on illegal aliens? Can I also assume you support 'Report and Deport', a strong border defense and NO services whatsoever for ILLEGAL invaders?

When can I expect your excellent editorial decrying all the disregard for immigration laws, continually ignored or broken by the city of Los Angeles?

I would love to get your take on Special Order 40, Chief Beck's decison NOT to impound illegal aliens cars, the $1.5 billion the city of LA spends on illegals and their anchors, the overall sanctuary city policy of LA and of course your HEARTY endorsement of AZ SB107?

Looking forward to more great editorials from you on adherring to the law.

b ro

Old people like me aren't buying from Amazon because Amazon is fighting Illinois's attempt to get them to collect our sales tax. I don't think that Amazon has noticed that I look stuff up on them and buy someplace that is more simpatico.

Wim Roffel

Copyright is a very modern "invention". When Plato and Erasmus wrote their books there were no copyright profits for them. With good reason: the idea that human thoughts can be possessed has always been a tricky one.

Copyright has always had its problems. We still listen to our radio and watch our tv for free (paytv and -radio never were really successful). With the new technologies around we simply will have to find another balance between the benefits of copyrights and its artificial inhuman character.


The church attempted to outlaw the Printing press - it would bankrupt the scribes.

The publishing industry tried to outlaw the copymachine - it would destroy the publishing business.

The movie industry tried to outlaw Betamax

Now, imagine a world legally without the printing press, the office copy machine, or the DVD.



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