Top Harvard lawyers don’t think making and sharing unauthorised digital copies is theft

TorrentFreak has a report about a piece of research – sadly behind a paywall – by Malgorzata Ciesielska and Dariusz Jemielniak, that looks at copyright from an unusual angle. It is based on in-depth interviews with 50 lawyers participating in Harvard’s Master of Laws (LL.M.) programme:

Harvard’s LL.M. students include lawyers working in firms, government officials, law professors, judges, diplomats, human rights activists, doctoral students, business men and women, and others. The diversity of the participants in the LL.M. program contributes significantly to the educational experience of all students at the School.

Clearly a diverse bunch with strong professional and intellectual credentials. That lends their views on making and sharing unauthorised copies of digital materials, and on the future of copyright, of particular interest. From the TorrentFreak post:

Our study reveals that law professionals, with raised professional ethics standards and expectations toward lawabiding behavior, highly above average understanding of law, and higher than average socio-economic status, do not equate digital piracy with physical theft, and are generally very tolerant or even supportive of it.

That key point about the difference between physical theft, which deprives someone of something they own, and digital sharing, which does not, is picked up in another TorrentFreak quotation from the original paper:

There is the shared sense that digital goods differ from physical goods, and that this constitutes a basis for new societal norms to emerge: while they ‘would never do anything illegal elsewhere’ [Interview 36], pirating digital content is treated morally differently and morally acceptable.

That won’t come as a novel idea to readers of this blog. But what is striking here is that the very people who are likely to have a deep appreciation for the law and its logic, are also overwhelmingly of the view that it makes no sense trying to enforce old analogue copyright norms on digital material. Let’s hope they carry that understanding with them as their careers progress, and they gain positions of influence within the legal profession.

Featured image by Daderot.

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