Monday, June 14, 2010

Piracy and perspective, part 2

About a year ago I linked you to an awesome article about crimes that incur lesser fines than music piracy. The list included kidnapping and arson.

Apparently we can now add environmental devastation as well.

Have a nice day.


John Wenger said...

I'm sorry, Susan, but your post is absurd.

1. The "awesome article" was itself ridiculous, equating a year in jail with about $50,000 on the absurd premise that this is what one might earn in that year.

2. It is wrong in other ways as well, since the crime of downloading songs is ubiquitous, thus making draconian fines one of the only practical ways of deterring the crime.

3. The new link is also wrong because the monetary limit will be raised in short order by a furious Congress and signed by an angry President. In case you don't know, the prohibition in the Bill of Rights of laws of attainder, which makes retroactive punishment of previously legal actions unconstitutional only applies to crimes, not to monetary matters. BP will pay, and they will pay a huge amount.

cinderkeys said...

1. Why is that premise absurd? The estimate won't work for everyone, but it's one way of taking loss of income into account.

2. We've had this debate before, and I still disagree. If a punishment is unjust, it's unjust.

3. Hope you're right.

GreyLupine said...

1. The whole premise is a little silly, but it's not a bad way to try to quantify the time and financial penalties for the sake of his argument.

2. Interesting approach to a ubiquitous crime. I think immediately think of two other crimes that are also as widespread -- illegal immigration and drug use. And there are large contingents of people who are trying to get both eliminated as crimes through amnesty and legalization under the argument that they ARE "too" ubiquitous. IMO, fining someone $50K per downloaded song is akin to confiscating all worldly possessions of an illegal short of the clothes on their back and then deporting them. Which I'd actually be for, but that's another argument. ;)

3. I hope so, too. Completely nonexistent enforcement by the agencies charged with regulating the oil companies created this mess. And while large still don't have any reason to fear the government, they WILL fear vast fines and public backlash causing their stock price to tank. So when the day is over, I'd say the latter will have a more positive effect than the former in terms of preventing a repeat.

John Wenger said...

Contra Cinderkeys and GreyLupine, the premise is absurd For starters, how much money a year of one's life in jail is worth would at the very least depend on how much money someone makes (that is why the penalty for violating traffic laws in some Scandinavian (I think) country depends on either someone's net worth or how much they earned that year or something like that).

Second, if I make $50,000 a year, making up for it by giving me $50,000 makes the assumption that going to work is as bad as being in jail. Well, it isn't.

The argument that the penalty is inherently unjust makes more sense, but punishment for a crime is supposed to be based on the seriousness of the crime and the deterrence effect it has. Given the impossibility of going after everyone, the government is trying an inverse lottery approach, where you will probably get away with the crime, but if you don't, you will be selling pencils on the street for the rest of your life.

My solution, now that I think of it, is to put my two points together, forget fines altogether, and put the person in jail for a stretch (and make them pay for the cost of incarceration at the same time). That way the person's life isn't ruined, but the punishment is still severe enough to deter.

GreyLupine said...

Well, that just opens up a broader argument. If you think prison really works as a deterrent, then we actually need to come down harder on other criminals than we are now, despite the fact that our prisons are overcrowded. So many, from rapists to child molsters to drug dealers get probation or often aren't even charged for their crimes for various reasons. Those that are often get little or no time and end up with mile-long rap sheets. I read examples of this on a nearly daily basis in the police reports our paper, and this is just one city. Obviously they continue to feel that the risk is worth it, so the deterrent is not strong enough. Until very recently they didn't even prosecute drug smugglers that came across the border with less than 500 pounds of pot. It became so widely-known that smugglers routinely came across with just under that amount, and true to form, they were all let go scot-free. Why? Because they said the court system was too backlogged and the jails were overcrowded.

And, personally, I'd feel a lot better having the violent offenders and drug smugglers behind bars before some guy downloading some songs for free. But there's no money to build new jails and staff them. Some states, such as Fornicalia, are talking about releasing "non-violent offenders" early to ease prison overcrowding, even. So, then what?

John Wenger said...

I don't want to argue this forever (and Susan has a new blog), but I have to respond to these arguments.

Grey Lupine said in her first post that there are other ubiquitous crimes like illegal immigration and drug use. But those two crimes are neither similar to illegal downloading nor to each other, and both of them are being prosecuted.

Illegal immigration is a mixed bag, since employers love cheap labor, and Americans love low prices, while drug use is usually a victimless crime (unlike illegal downloading) which should probably be replaced by decriminalization.

In her second post, she said that we should come down harder on other criminals, but the genius of the downloading approach is that it doesn't jail mass numbers of people, but if you get caught, you will go to jail.

I would also argue with some of the facts mentioned, since I imagine a lot of the low sentences have to do with proving the case. But if the answer is more prisons, I would go for it if necessary, but as I indicated above, a lot of people are in jail for victimless crimes and should be let out anyway.

GreyLupine said...

This is Chris, incidentally. You've met me at two of Susan's birthday parties here in Tucson. I believe you'll agree I'm not female. ;)

Anyway, just one thing before winding this down: Very few crimes are truly victimless. You said drug use was. What about the people who get robbed and houses that get broken into so that drug users can get money for their fix? What about spouses/partners/friends that get beaten up or killed when the drug user is in a drug-induced haze?

None of those problems will vanish with legalization. IF the prices go down, these people will still need to commit their crimes to get money for their drugs, even if the money they need is a bit less -- they're not exactly going to slip on a suit and become cubicle jockeys to afford their drugs just because they're suddenly legal.

But, I apologize for the huge digression from the original post. :)