I am one of possibly few left growing up being taught that stealing (or theft if talking legal terminology) requires loss. That in order for something to be stolen somebody has something, but somebody else took it away from you, depriving you of it, while gaining him/her possession of said item. Slowly this concept is being replaced rapidly every day with a different, easier to use concept. Now people are growing accustomed to the idea that theft/stealing doesn't require the "owner" to loose things they had "stolen," or that loosing something you don't even have but wish you had is theft. This surfacing ideology really scares me from a philosophical viewpoint. Before I try to reason why this is scary, I will first attempt to identify reasoning behind this. I think the answer as to why the definition was changed in the mindset of possibly millions is due in part from the pushing of certain agendas on people, which shall be a basis on my explanation.
The agenda pushing is in part from the recording and movie industries attempt to show people a negative side to file-sharing, mainly that it can be used to violate copyright. Either through thinking copyright infringement was too light of a word to stir up support, or possibly because they though copyright infringement was too complex for somebody to explain, they instead went with calling unauthorized duplication of data theft or stealing. This brings in another factor right into the issue, that is that they might be too lazy to try and define in a balanced way fee from biased the basic ideas behind copyright laws without resorting to toying with the sometimes fragile world of emotions.
The flaw with the decision here is, if you followed the definition of theft/stealing I was taught, duplicating pieces of data, simple 1's and 0's, without depriving them of the same bits of data doesn't fall under this definition. Sure copying something copyrighted without permission in some cases is wrong, but why not call it what it really is, and try to make it wrong in it's own sense instead of "stealing" stealing. The only thing that somebody would possibly be deprived of is the potential to earn some money. The potential meaning they have a chance, but fate can work in or out of their favor, but is not required under law to fall in their favor. I shall close this explanation of this piece with a fitting analogy. If we follow the mindset of the industries at work in media (music and movies), maybe it can be considered theft to tell people that a particular movie, or CD, or book is bad/not worth spending money on because you decrease the value of it to those people who want to buy it. The only flaw here might be that freedom of speech is protected under law here in the U.S, but there have been cases where the justice system has failed us on protecting the first amendment.
You the reader have probably been reading through this and wondered where the reasoning for the redefining being scary will come into play. The English language is very rich in words and phrases. There is more than one way to describe one act, but only one way to describe it accurately. To me, what we were taught in elementary school, piled on to what "copying" is, and adding on to that what is being fed into our brains from debates on controversial issues like the file-sharing debates can be a lot of acts to sort through, but if you think though it logically, copying a file on a CD, and shoplifting a new CD from a store have fundamental differences that don't negate any wrongness they might have, but keep them from being complete equals. It is the combining of these differences as true similarities that is the scary part, manipulating different acts as the same either because a message you want to get out isn't being effective, or out of sheer educational laziness that threatens the barriers that keep logic thinking that one act and another that are different as different acts. This is truly a wrong that must be recognized now, because the sooner we say two fundamentally different acts are the same for whatever reason, the sooner we start to try manipulating logic or truth to further dreadful goals or achievements that no man wants to face, but may be facing already without knowing it because it is being well hidden under manipulated language, almost in a way like in George Orwell's 1948 classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Copying something, whether it's a book, an audio-recording, or a computer program, is not the same as stealing it. It may be infringement; at times even a type of fraud. But it is not theft. The belief that it is has become the popular superstition of the information age; the modern equivalent of the belief that photographing a person is the same as stealing that person's soul.
- Kevin Poulsen (The Condor Brief)