I've always been a strong supporter of copyrights. I haven't downloaded songs I didn't buy. I haven't torrented movies I didn't purchase. I haven't downloaded books I haven't payed for. I've been pretty hard-line. My view is we should try to reward the creators of the content we enjoy, and hopefully they will make more.
I've heard and understand the arguments against copyright laws as they exist. Copyright in the USA is incredibly screwed up. A reasonable person might assume that a book written by an author who died 50 years ago might be public domain by now. Nope. There are books and movies made by people who died before my (elderly) parents were born that are still under copyright.
And I agree the RIAA, MPAA, DCMA, Disney, etc can be quite evil and should go the way of the dodo. But, I still get a little sarcastic when someone's idea of "protest" is getting thousands of songs and movies for free. Call me cynical, but I'm not sure you're entitled to unleash a Braveheart-style "FREEDOM!" when you also happen to be getting the latest superhero blockbuster or the entire works of Queen completely for free. There are many ways to protest copyright laws, but "getting free stuff" isn't exactly martyrdom.
But… I'm thinking of changing my stance. A little.
My new tentative policy:
Continue to respect most copyrights.
As I said, I generally think some copyright is a good thing. I think current copyright is too long by decades (or possibly a century), but some is useful.
Example: I love Terry Pratchett. I want to support his writing career, so we buy his books (pretty much all of them).
If they've been dead 20 years or more…
Sorry publisher, but that's more than enough time to make your money. And family: it's time to move on. Harsh, but true. And besides, I can't reward dead people in the hopes he/she/they will make more.
Entirely hypothetical example: I might download the text of C. S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" rather than buy it new or dig through Half Price Books. The author died ten years before I was born.
If I already own the item in "hard copy"…
If I already own it, I see no issue in downloading it. If I've already purchased a physical book, getting an electronic copy is OK by me.
Entirely hypothetical example: I might download the text of Snow Crash or Brave New World to read them on my Nook rather than carry around the expensive hardback copies we own.
If the thing is not available for me to purchase in any form…
If a book, CD, or movie is no longer in print, I see no point in not downloading it. No one is missing out on royalties. There's no way for me to reward the creators and publishers. Mostly this would apply to old books and movies, but some more recent and surprising things could fall under this one…
True story: I wanted to watch Star Wars with my daughter. I thought for sure I could stream it online from Amazon Instant Video: Nope. Let me try RedBox: Nope. Google around a bit: Not available for streaming anywhere. I decided to buy the Trilogy DVD. Half Price Books didn't have it (no big surprise). Target didn't have it. Best Buy only had it on BluRay as a $100 "complete saga" version which contained the hacked up and adulterated "special edition" versions of the original trilogy, which I do not want. Sorry, the changes and added "special" effects ruin it for me.
So I look on Target, Best Buy, and Amazon's websites: they, too, only have the adulterated "special edition" versions of the original trilogy for sale. These are not the movies I am looking for. These are not the movies I am going to buy, at any time, ever. The movies I am looking for are not for sale anywhere I can find by the publisher. So…
Entirely hypothetical example: I might download the unadulterated original Star Wars Trilogy. Then, if/when I could purchase the unadulterated original Star Wars Trilogy from the publisher, I'd do so. Again, just a hypothetical example.
Note: I have seen people make this claim for things like Game of Thrones, complaining that HBO makes you purchase its cable channel in order to watch that show, when it'd be much smarter to offer it on-line. Yes, that would be smarter, but, to me, that argument doesn't work as a reason to download: it is for sale by the publisher, it's just too expensive. So, even if I wanted to watch it, I wouldn't download it.
If the creator has been dead for at least 20 years, OR if it's not available for purchase in any form, OR if I own it already, I feel no remorse in downloading. I feel fear in downloading: I know it's unlikely I'll be picked out by the copyright police (or whoever does that), but I'm naturally cautious. Fear: yes; remorse: no.