"In the beginning was the Word...." John 1:1
Every new idea is the connection between two previous ideas. When a stand-up comic in Los Angeles creates a joke, he connects two ideas that we had never connected before, in a way that makes us laugh. When a stand-up comic in New York connects the same two ideas at exactly the same time as the comic in L.A., he has his lawyer draw up copyright papers which are filed in Washington D.C. That night, in two separate night-clubs, the comics recite their jokes. The next day, the New York comic sues the L.A. comic for infringement of copyright. After all, he filed his papers first. The L.A. comic stands his ground, denying that he plagiarized the New York comic. But in court, the New York comic proves he filed his papers first, the L.A. comic loses, and if he refuses to pay
the extortion demanded of him, he will be locked up in a federal prison with a psychopath who will inflict unspeakable violence on the comic.
In a restaurant, waitresses gather around a customer who is celebrating her birthday. The waitresses all sing the well-known song, "Happy Birthday To You." The descendants of the person who first composed that song sue the waitresses, demanding money for "copyright infringement."
There are two issues here:
First, are the waitresses guilty of violating the Eighth Commandment? Did they steal from someone who died 100 years ago (or her descendants) by singing a song that person wrote?
Second, should government force be used to compel waitresses to transfer money to the descendants of the composer of "Happy Birthday To You?"
George Washington is reported to have said,
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. . . .
Intellectual property laws are the use of force and violence to restrict the spread of ideas. Of words. Or pictures. Or music.
Of course, it would be unethical of you to tell others that you were the creative genius behind a joke, book, song, or painting, when in fact the work is someone else's. Lying is a sin. If you hired a writer, composer, or painter to do work for you, you are obligated to pay for the work according to the mutually agreed upon terms of the contract. But if Jones hires Smith to compose a song for Jones' wedding, and Anderson hears the song, hums the song all the way home, then sings it for those who couldn't attend the wedding, Anderson has not stolen anything from Smith or Jones. Smith and Jones still have all that they contracted for. It is unethical for Smith or Jones to threaten Anderson with violence unless Anderson pays Smith or Jones some money for singing a song.
Waitresses no long sing the "Happy Birthday" song,
because of the threat of government violence hanging over their heads if they do. Does this make our society a better place?
Morality vs. Legality
There is a difference between what is moral and what is legal. Just because something is "illegal" doesn't mean it's immoral.
Suppose I'm personal friends with the dictator of a small Latin American country, who has assured me that if I ever want his help, he'll send a squad of his "Republican Guard" to rough-up anyone who doesn't do as I say. His nation is a member of the United Nations, so his thugs will have "diplomatic immunity."
Suppose further that I announce that I have "officially" and "legally" issued a decree that if Jones breathes, he must pay me $100, or the "Republican Guard" will inflict pain and anguish on him.
Not surprisingly, Jones breathes, but will not pay me the $100 I say I am entitled to.
Some Christians say that Jones is "stealing" from me by not paying me what I have a "legal" and "official" right to demand by virtue of my "official" and "legal" decree.
But Jones has not taken anything from me. I have not been deprived of my property. Jones has not violated a contract. I have only been deprived of that which my "official" and "legal" decree says I am entitled to.
(Admittedly, under some circumstances, breathing can be theft. If one scuba diver takes air out of the tank of another diver, that deprives the other diver of air he paid for. But in Jones' case, he is not depriving me of "my" air.)
Similarly, if you write a song and I sing it, I have not deprived you of your song, nor have I violated a contract with you.
You have only been deprived of money that someone else ("the government") has said I must pay you, someone who threatens to have the "Republican Guard" beat me up if I don't pay you. You may have a government-created "legal" right to my money, but not a moral right. I don't sin against God if I sing your song.
It's not contrary to "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" for me to duplicate your song with my voice. Or make a copy of your book using my own paper and ink. Or my own electronic digits.