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Author: Abhigyan, IV year of B.A.,LL.B, from Delhi Metropolitan Education, GGSIPU.


Among all the technological advancements seen in the past decade, the internet and other digital forms of communication and publication have taken the biggest leap. The methods by which various sorts of information can be communicated have likewise changed dramatically. A movie or a song can now be accessed anywhere and anytime, you can read a book without actually having a book and all of this on a single device. It has become an indispensable part of our life and with the increase in digital media, user’s ability to reproduce, distribute, remix, and otherwise make use of content is growing too. However, everything comes with a risk.

There are more than 4 billion people using internet and 600 million people use internet in India alone and almost every day we hear of a new virus that causes substantial risk to data or loss of confidential data in businesses and government institutions. Therefore, parallel to the rise of digital media and growth of related industries, Intellectual property rights (IPR) are becoming more vulnerable to infringement. On one hand where internet makes our life easier, it puts up the copyright world at greater threat. In this article we aim to look at the copyright and piracy world through the lenses of Kantian perspective.

Copyright and Piracy

Copyright as defined by Merriam Webster is an “exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something such as a literary, musical, or artistic work”. To be simply tell, a copyright is a mechanism that ensures that only the original creator has the right to create copies of his creation and prevent all others from making such copies. “The basic idea behind such protection is the premise that innovations require incentives. Copyright recognizes this need and gives it a legal sanction

However, as the internet continues to grow, so will the number of people who engage in internet based piracy. “Piracy refers to the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted content that is then sold at substantially lower prices in the 'grey' market.”

“The origin of copyright had a link with the invention of printing press by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century. With the easy multiplying facility made possible by the printing press, there was voluminous increase in the printing and distribution of books which, in turn, led to adoption of unfair practices such as unauthorized printing by competing printers. Though piracy was born by the end of the fifteenth century, it was only in 1710 the first law on copyright in the modern sense of the term came into existence in England. The law which was known as `Queen Anne's Statute' provided authors with the right to reprint their books for a certain number of years.”

Computers and the Internet have made it simple and inexpensive to copy and distribute software. Where the high cost of coping and distribution efforts previously represented a barrier to pirated material, the internet and computers have made piracy a major issue.

Kantian ethics

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a German philosopher was an opponent of utilitarianism. His work significantly followed the ethics of the Deontological theory. “The name comes from the Greek word deon, meaning duty or obligation.” “A Deontological theory of ethics is one which holds that at least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their positive or negative consequences on human beings.”

To be simply put it means that the rightness or wrongness of an action is not judged by the consequence of that action but that the action confirms with our duty or the obligation. Kant in his theory focuses on Good Will, and there are two elements to having a good will: 1. Action must confirm to the Moral Law and; 2. A person must choose the right action solely because it is the right thing to do and not perform an action because he fears punishment or hopes for a reward.

An imperative is simply a command. There are two types of imperatives according to Kant: hypothetical and categorical imperatives. According to him a hypothetical imperative is a moral obligation applicable only in order to achieve a fixed goal. He pointed out that, “most of the time, whether or not we ought to do something isn't really a moral choice – instead, it's just contingent on our desires.” Like, if your desire is to get money, then you ought to get a job. Kant called these if-then statements, hypothetical imperatives. These imperatives are about prudence rather than morality.

However, Kant focused morality in terms of what he called Categorical Imperatives, these are commands that one must perform regardless of what their consequence would be. Kant put two tests in order to identify what actions fits with the moral law. These are:

1 “The universalizability principle: Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction”

This simply means that before doing an action you should ask yourself would you be willing to allow everyone else to do the same. For ex. If a student wants to cheat for a test he did not study, he should ask himself if he wants to live in a world where everyone, everywhere would cheat if they had not studied for the test. And if in case you accept your action of cheating, you are universalizing the same.

In addition to this, another test that followed is:

2. “The Humanity Principle: Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end, and never as a mere means."

This means that every human has individual intrinsic value and is capable of formulating their own purposes and goals and we cannot reduce others to mere objects for fulfilling our needs. The worth and value of human beings comes solely from what they are and not from the utility they perform for someone else.

Now here using someone as “mere means” is different from using someone. Humans are not objects to be used as mere means but they must be treated as an “end-in-themselves”. This could be understood by illustrations. For ex. If I am using a pen and it runs out of ink, I would throw it because it does not fulfill my purpose anymore. This means that pen is a mere mean for me to write. But on the other hand you are using this article written by me to get information and I am using various articles to write this information. Kant says, you and I and the person I am receiving information from are autonomous have our own purposes, views and desires.

Piracy from Kantian Perspective

We will now look at the ethics of piracy through direct engagement with Kantianism. From Kantian perspective, it becomes very clear that the action of piracy is unethical. If we look at the first test of categorical Imperative we will find that if we confirm with the piracy for our own desires, we will be universalizing the act that everyone can pirate and sell pirated objects. If such happens no one will be willing to watch their innovations being sold off unethically, they would lose money and will not be able to afford to make further original copies.

Further if we look at the other test of Categorical imperative, piracy would mean that one does not admire the original creator and his ideas and is just using him as a mere means to fulfill his own desires. Where the original creator has his own needs and goals that me must achieve from his creation, piracy would rob him of this and he would not be treated as Kant says an “end to himself”

Thus there is no doubt that from a Kantian perspective, the action of piracy is itself unethical, regardless of what the consequence of the action would be.


Piracy is an obvious issue that not only has a negative impact on individual but it also hampers local and national growth. The act today is so easy to carry and is as difficult to trace. The very base of piracy that one individual is benefitted is against the ethics of morality. It demotivates the original creators, decreases innovations ad violates the very right of copyright. Every state must take necessary steps to implement and modernize their intellectual property laws. Individual must be aware of their rights over their original creation and their right to make copies of it.