Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to

My Free Unauthorized Use, Trespass, Conversion and Misappropriation Summer Vacation: Don’t Worry It’s Not Stealing

My wife and I are in the saving money mode since unfortunately our son is likely to go to some pricey liberal arts college next year and sock us with a huge bill. But we don’t want to give up on our summer vacation. After all we deserve to have fun too. So after reading  The New York Times op-ed by law professor Stuart P. Green entitled “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing” I came up with an idea, that if I say so myself, is brilliant. I will have a vacation based on unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation, since according to Green, it’s no longer stealing when I use non-rival, intangible goods (e.g., when I download movies, video games, software, books, music, etc., without paying for them). It’s unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation. Hot dog, Disney World here we come.

So we’ll start this dream vacation by hopping on (and over the turnstyles) the Metro to get to National Airport. We’ll be sure to go at non-rush hour times so there are plenty of seats that are going unused. What difference does it make if we don’t use our metro cards and pay, Metro wouldn’t have gotten any money for them anyway. Next, we used to find a Jet Blue flight to Orlando with lots of empty seats and we snuck past the gate agent. Only bad news is that we all had middle seats in the back. But hey, it was free. We did, unfortunately have to pay for our drinks (my wife had a gin and tonic and I had a Bud) since alas, these are tangible goods that cost Jet Blue money to provide. And to take them without paying would be stealing. On to the Marriott Orlando (in a cab we will share with a federal government worker going to a conference on homeland security technology; who because the feds got lots of money can easily pay for the full fare.) Lots of rooms at the Marriott since its mid-week in July, so after we bought a room key mag decoder (again, we couldn’t find a free one) we were able to get in our room without checking in. We kicked back and hacked into the Lodge Net movie system and watched the Hunger Games. Great movie. Then the real fun. We jumped the fence at Disney World and we had a great time. My daughter loved seeing Princess Jasmine. But she did ask why we had to climb the fence to get in. I told her it was because this was the way that only special people got in. We were sure not to go on any rides where there was a line since this would actually inconvenience those suckers (oops, I mean paying customers) who actually shelled out the dough to see Mickey. On the way home, we went by Safeway and bought some of that great barbecued chicken and a jug of Sprite and headed for the hotel restaurant, and found a nice secluded table and had a great meal. The waiter did come over, but we only took water, since this was pretty much free for the hotel. When we got home that night my wife decided she had to tell her friend in Paris all about the day, so she used the hotel phone to dial long distance. Man, she talked forever, I guess because she had not talked to her Parisian friend in a long while. But it was okay, we were calling after 10:00 PM and the circuits had plenty of excess capacity. Finally, the morning we went home my daughter went online to The Pirate Bay (using the hotel’s Wi-Fi after we found a guest’s password) and she actually tried to download Adele’s latest hit. Man was I steamed. I told her no daughter of mine will steal music. So I made her head right to iTunes and buy that sucker.

So, we get home and totaled up the bill. Twelve bucks for the drinks on the plane. $45.00 for all the Safeway food. And $1.29 for the Adele song. For a grand total of $58.00. Not bad. And we didn’t steal a single thing!

Wait, this gives me an idea. Maybe my son can do the same thing next year when he does to Brown. No need to pay that $55K tuition and fees (are you kidding, $55K to go to school!). He can just go to classes that aren’t full and we’ll be in great shape. We will however insist on paying for the cost of the diploma. By my calculation, should be about $20 (the price of sheepskin is up these days).


Image credit: Flickr user jericl cat

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  • In pure theft, one man’s loss is another gain. We can make immorality arguments about it, but if I steal your TV I am now one TV richer and you are one TV poorer, but in the macroeconomic sense the net amount of TVs stays the same.

    In the case of copyright (and in your analogy). The net loss in this case is mostly a probability problem. But one where there isn’t really any way to know the “p” ratio (copyright math aside). Regardless, the net gain is always p = 1, that is, there is always a gain. For a potential loss. So in the macroeconomic sense, the more people copy things or use resources that would potentially be unused, the more product or service, the more net wealth there is in the world.

  • You may find this book helpful with planning for your retirement:

  • I think we should just start referring to all crimes as theft. If someone is murdered, their life is stolen. If some is assaulted their health and well being is stolen. Maybe we should just rewrite the criminal code, theft seems to apply well to everything.

  • So what’s your point, Rob? You seem to be implying that Unauthorized Use, Trespass, Conversion and Misappropriation are “okay” because they’re not stealing. Last I checked, all of those are torts (or even crimes, sometimes) that can still get you sued. Green’s point wasn’t that copyright infringement is “okay,” just that the label of “stealing” doesn’t apply well to copyright and obfuscates discussion about it. You’re proving his point.

  • Clever piece. But I have to agree with Jeff, that just about all crimes could be relabeled as theft. Child abuse? Theft of at least some potential for a fulfilling life. Medical malpractice? Same.