No New Theft

Ecc 1:9-14: What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

With the wisdom given to him by God, Solomon reminds us that nothing truly changes from generation to generation. Anything that is percieved to be “new” has actually been done before.

Several years ago I started work on a small article entitled “No New Theft”. In the years that have passed, I seem to have lost my original work, so here I am, starting fresh. When I started my thoughts, it was in the height of online music piracy – Napster was still around, WinMX was very popular, Kazaa was gaining popularity. It was socially acceptable to download music without paying for it. People would brag of buying “new” 40GB hard drives to store their vast collection of illegal music. What was worst of all is that I would hear Christians talk of doing such things.

Before I get into details, I must confess what I have confessed before : I was part of the crowd that did this. I had event invested about $500 in hardware and countless hours in developing custom software to make a PC that would run in my car and play my music, of which maybe about 5 albums I actually owned ( – Keep in mind this was before the iPod, and before any real portable MP3 players started to show up on the market). I would not openly admit this around Christians, but that did not stop them from talking about what they had downloaded. My friends at school knew I did this, and we even would download songs on Napster in one of our clasrooms, because the school had a faster Internet connection than we had at home. It took me until I was in College to start thinking about my actions, and one day I did what few would do – deleted my entire music directory.

I think we all know that theft is a sin – Mat 19:18, Rom 2:21, Eph 4:28 to name a few. What we commonly neglect to do, however, is admit that what we personally are doing is considered theft. We try and find ways to justify it, make excuses, but ultimately we are guilty of theft.

I would like to outline some ways that we can use technology to be guilty of stealing something. Some of these are old and rarely done, some are just starting to be a problem with some. I myself can say that I am guilty of more than one.

Stealing TV
I was hopeful that this is something that does not happen to offten, until I saw the cable industry’s estimated damages (granted, this is from the industry that charges us more and more each year…) – around $6.6 billion a year is lost to stolen cable. Cable theft is when you actively or “passively” get cable TV service that you have not paid for. Active would be if you plug into someone else’s cable on purpose, passive is when the cable-co makes a mistake and you get service without having to pay for it. Both are crimes, and have been punished in the past by up to 16 years in prison and fines in the millions (I doubt the sentences are standard, but that is where the extreme seems to go). I know the later does happen – while in college, the provider in Urbana, IL had given free Showtime and Starz to most of the student apartments in Urbana. I informed them of this mistake, and they were aware of it, but chose to not fix it for some reason. In Champaign (the sister city to Urbana), a mere two blocks away, people on the same plan as me did not have this error.

More recently, TV shows have become available online. You can download some legally – iTunes sells several new shows, and though they have since moved to a different service, NBC offered shows like The Office for about $2-$3 per episode on iTunes. You can also download many more shows online illegally. I will not go into the details, since I would not like to tempt someone to do so, but it requires only a couple hours to download an entire episode, and it only takes a couple of minutes to find them, if you know where to look. Usually these are stripped of commercials, resulting in no revenue generated by those who spend money making the show.

Stealing Music
This has been the most popular for of theft for the last, oh, 10 years or so. Why pay $14.99 for a CD that only has two good songs on it? Maybe you just want to preview some songs before you buy the CD – and then casually forget to delete them (not that the first part is right). What about the artists – dont you know that the greedy record labels are the ones taking all the money? All of these are excuses that people make in trying to justify stealing music.

With the invention of the MP3 format around 1995, which allows near-CD qualify music to fit in 1/10th of the storage (making a song that is usually 40MB only 4MB), came the rise of music piracy. Formats had existed prior to MP3 which could squeeze music down, but they required special software to play back, required expensive software to create the files (it was possible to convert a CD to MP3 for free since very early on), and required too much computing power for most users at the time. Though MP3s started to show up in the mid 90’s, it was not until the invention of Napster (1999) that it became truly easy to find any song online. Since then legal means to get music online have become available, most notably the iTunes Music Store, where individual songs can be bought for only $0.99, taking away the excuse of “wasting” money on an albun with only a few good songs.

Stealing Internet
This one is a bit more recent. I have done this myself, and after looking at the laws surrounding this, I will not be doing it again. So, you are traveling. You want to check your e-mail on your laptop, but there is no place around that offers free, or cheap, wireless service – no Starbucks, no McDonalds (some have wireless now), etc. There are some houses near where you are staying, and they seem to have high
speed Internet. Your laptop lists several wireless networks – “linksys”,“netgear”, another “linksys”. None have passwords, no encryption. In fact, you know that since these default names are listed, the people who set them up probably dont know how to secure their wireless. You tell your laptop to connect, and, wow, you are online. The (il)legality of this has started come into light only recently. In
1. A person commits the crime of tampering with computer users if he knowingly and without authorization or without reasonable grounds to believe that he has such authorization: (1) Accesses or causes to be accessed any computer, computer system, or computer network;

33.02. BREACH OF COMPUTER SECURITY. (a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner.

There are many other ways that we can use technology that is wrong. Remember – there is nothing new under the sun. The Bible speaks nothing of the Internet, MP3, wireless, TV, or any other modern technology, but stealing is condemned. Man has come up with many new ways to do the sins condemned in the Bible. Let us all be careful about how we use the technology we have.

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