I get this line frequently from holier-than-thou friends, co-workers, and [extended] family and I'd like to publicly address this in a series of posts about the ethics/morality of downloading digital content. I think the people asking this question take for granted that deep down I agree with them, and they are sort of expecting a bashfull "aww shucks, yeah I'm a sinner, but hey .." response.
Well, I'll disabuse all you MPAA/RIAA zombies right now of your fantasies -- not only do I think digital piracy is not wrong, I wish there were a whole lot more of it.
There are too many issues to discuss in a single post so I'll concentrate on the "its wrong because it hurts the record studios/software developers/movie studios" line of reasoning.
But does downloading digital content cause harm to the creator of that content? Well, the first thing to note is that noone is being deprived of their property--a download copies a file, it leaves the original intact. Despite being called piracy, filesharing is not stealing: imagine sneaking into your neighbor's house and making an exact replica of their new stereo. You enjoy the benefits of a new stereo and your neighbor need never know -- there's no immediate harm being done, if any harm occurs its because of some secondary effect. Usually the claim is one of financial harm -- i download a song instead of buying the cd, so I've harmed the record company to the tune of $15.
But think about the implication there -- if not buying a particular commodity causes morally significant harm, then we're a bunch of sadists, aren't we? I buy AMD over Intel -- do I owe Intel an apology? My wife doesn't likes to do her own gardening -- is she wronging the local gardening business? Anytime we consume anything, or don't consume for that matter, someone is losing our business -- is their lack of profit creating a deficit on our moral balance sheet? This argument just doesn't add up, unless you believe that we have a moral imperative to ensure everyone makes a buck.
At this point in the argument, my opponents usually jump to another reason why filesharing is wrong by pointing to the illegality ... but I'll treat the other (equally deficient) attacks on digital piracy in future posts. Untill then, burn baby burn. Get you bittorrent groove on, my friends, and download the content you want guilt free.