How About "Downlifting" to Replace "Digital Piracy"?

We recently asked you to consider renaming “digital piracy” in light of recent actual piracy. The question appears to have some resonance, as it was picked up by The Guardian, The Washington Post, and others.

For my money, the best suggestion by far comes from a reader named Derek:

Downlifting. Download + shoplifting. Pretty accurate description that doesn’t imply violence. Plus there’s a little mental double-take with “down” and “lift.”

Thus nominated. Anyone care to second?


The problem with calling it shoplifting, stealing, theft, etc. is that all of these refer to taking a physical good. It is a stretch to say that copying a file is theft since the original is left intact and in place. I am sure someone wittier than I can come up with some wordplay using copyright infringement or illegal sharing.


That's innacurate as well as lame-sounding. No downlifting on the information superhighway!

Shoplitfing is theft, because it results in a direct (rather than theoretical) loss of resource to the original owner.

* Call it what it is - copyright infringement. No more, no less. *




Why do we need come up a fancy new euphemism at all?

This is not a particularly complicated concept, so let's just call it what it is -- stealing.

It doesn't matter if it's a physical theft or a digital one -- taking something that doesn't belong to you without permission or payment is stealing.


The right to exclude others from distribution and reproduction are the exclusive rights of the holder in the copyright. In that effect, you are taking away that entity's exclusive right. By doing so, you are in effect also decreasing the value in that right. The loss is not theoretical, it is real.

But, I agree. Copyright infringement. It's what it's called legally.


I Second Kieran, it's copyright infringement. It doesn't need another name, it already has one. Stop trying to give it a name that implies theft. Theft is a completely different thing to copyright infringement.


Agreed. It is more important to be correct than clever.


It's bootlegging.


Seriously..why all this effort to replace an accurate description, like copyright infringement, with something catchy and witty--yet inaccurate?


This whole exercise is a terrible idea, and so we are fortunate that there is no official Board of Proper English Usage to enforce the use of whatever new term you come up with. I'll just continue to use the word piracy to describe this behavior; thanks anyway.


It sounds wrong to me - the mental double take detracts from it, imho.

I keep reading it as an adjective and not a verb; it sounds like a straightforward opposite to "uplifting".

"Boy, did I ever have a downlifting day."
"Downlifting effects include drowsiness and the irrepressible urge to be sarcastic."


If copyright infringement is the same as shoplifting, what is falsely accusing someone of a crime in the new york times the same as?


I don't understand why everyone is bashing the concept that Dubner is discussing. It's his blog and he can choose to write on or question anything he wants. All you people who choose to insult his choices...grow up, loosen up or stop reading the blog. Why not come up with a new euphesim for it? Is it affecting you life negatively? I am pretty sure that the point of this whole Op Ed piece is that people can give their opinions, maybe some should learn to respect opinions or say nothing at all

Blaise Pascal

I agree with Kieran. "Digital Piracy" is a violation of a government-sanctioned monopoly on making copies of a work. Making a copy without permission of the monopolist does not deny the monopolist of the original, nor does it deny the monopolist the ability to make copies themselves.

Terms which equate violation of monopoly rights with theft of a physical good misrepresent the nature of the crime, and the harm the crime causes.


No relation between file sharing and shoplifting is meanignful!

File sharing is more like allowing someone else to use your subway pass or lending a book to a friend. These actions still result in decreased revenue for the subway or bookstores but they have nothing to do with shoplifting.

The whole issue is the scale, in which file sharing is happening. Although with the current rate of file sharing, the publishing industry is still doing pretty well, it fears that it will eventually disappear in the near future if file sharing continues to grow. Hence the whole whining and lobbying and lawsuits and thieves-calling, etc.

Now, is it a good or a bad thing if the publishing industry (video, musuc, books) disappears or transforms? I say yes and let me explain why:
If you look back in history, there has always been demand for knowledge and art and people have created fantastic books, peces of music and art - WITHOUT any copyright protection for millenia. In fact human development has been slowed down or completely stalled at times when the means of distribution (copying) of knowledge and art have been limited. In that regard publishing industry (which is a relatively new phenomenon in history) has played a very positive role, allowing more authors (knowledge or art creators) to reach an ever-increasing audience. What happened recently was that a new method of distribution emerged and that was called Internet. It is obviously more efficient than the existing methods of making knowledge and art available to people.
Copyright is a concept that was created not to prevent people form using content for free but to prevent rival publishers to take advantage of the writer or musician that was discovered, say by you.
Do you think that Homer had in mind to become a best-selling writed when he started to write The Iliad? Or may be Mozart or Wagner or Shakespeare would have preferred to write a single genius symphony or play and then live on royalties ever after? Suppose you can put a price tag on the greateness of Bethoven's music and the influence he had on Western culture in the recent centuries. Suppose you can go back in time and reward him with all the gold that deserved. Do you think he would have become a better composer then?
This whole debate is about preserving the publishing busnes as such. It is not about the authors. As I wrote publishing/recording business played its great role but now it is time to move on as it has become a limitation in at least two areas:
1) As content publishers grow bigger and bigger and control all the means of content distribution, they can dictate and influence the directiion in which art is going by producing artists who are willing to go their way and using their advertizing power to promote utter junk sometimes.
2) Limiting public utility by adding artificial barriers to content distribution.

And public utility is key here as the more people gain access to knowledge and arts, the better of we all are. I can give you another example of an increased public utility, which is a good taken globally but deemed unfair by Americans: education. In USA higher education is paid and tends to be very expensive (tens of thousands of dollas or even more for 4-5 years in college/university). On the other hands there are countiries where the education is socialized and there is not tuition for univiersities (most of Europe is like that). Take two recent grads with similar majors - one from the US and one from Europe. The one from the US is most likely to carry a big debt by the time he/she starts working. The european grad can start building from ground zero while the American grad starts from below zero. That may be seen as unfair by Americans but if you look at it globally, the advantage that the European students have actually increase public utility and help move humanity faster forward.



We already have a word for this.


Sally LeRoy

JMC, your post has such obvious irony, I'm curious if you are serious or making a joke.

Avi Rappoport

@8 - Bootlegging is a pretty good term.

In Prohibition, bootleggers didn't mainly steal anyone's alcohol, though they were unscrupulous in what they sold and violent in general.

Concert and album bootlegs were also not quite stealing, more breaking copyright, escaping artist/company control, and generally not paying for the music.

Both of aspects apply to sharing and downloading music without permission, so the word fits the situation quite nicely.


In Bangalore, this would be called "swalpa adjust maadi" -or "please adjust a little".

For Bangalore undergrad students, this would be the digital equivalent of "kerosene xerox", getting xeroxes of original books made at Rs.0.25 a page - $0.005 per page - for exam study purposes.


I'll keep on calling it "sharing", per the Gospel of Saint Ignucius, thank you very much.
BTW the Pirate Party is at 21% in pre-election polls in Sweden. They're almost certain to have MEPs. THAT WOULD ROCK.