Ranking crime

The Fairfax broadsheets are having some fun with the ABS’s attempt to rank criminal offences.

“Theft of intellectual property” comes in at 73, one above actual physical theft from a retail premises, suggesting that it’s more serious to download a compact disc illegally than it is to walk into a store and steal one.

Surely the bigger problem here is that it is hard to rank theft independently of the value of what is stolen? Illegally copying a song is less serious than walking out of a shop with a laptop or camera without paying for it. But illegally copying valuable software is more serious than pinching a $1.50 newspaper.

Why is possessing illicit drugs (rank 124 out of 157) worse than actually using illicit drugs (rank 125)? And surely we have curious standards if desiring illicit drugs ranks so lowly while while meeting that desire is covered by a series of offences from rank 14 (importation) to 22 (dealing and trafficking). There would be no supply if there was no demand.

6 Responses to “Ranking crime

  • 1
    Russell
    July 24th, 2009 11:54

    “Surely the bigger problem here is that it is hard to rank theft independently of the value of what is stolen? Illegally copying a song is less serious than walking out of a shop with a laptop or camera without paying for it. But illegally copying valuable software is more serious than pinching a $1.50 newspaper. ”
    .
    Maybe not. “The value of what is stolen” also relates to who is valuing it. Most of us have never owned intellectual property, imagine it has something to do with profiteering corporations, and couldn’t give a toss about it. Whereas if you shoved the little fellow selling newspapers aside and swiped one of his papers ……

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    July 24th, 2009 12:22

    I agree that people have different perceptions when the marginal cost is low or nothing, or, eg intellectual property, fare evasion on public transport, a sense that bank transaction fees are rip-offs. (Though whether these perceptions are justified is another matter.)

    But within physical objects, we would still view stealing a $1 item as much less serious than stealing a $2000 item.

  • 3
    Doug
    July 24th, 2009 14:45

    I would imagine that at least part of the ranking difference between downloading an album and pilfering a CD would be related to the ease of the crime. Stealing a CD from a store requires that the perpetrator physically enters the (probably CCTV-covered) shop and takes the CD. Most music shops I’ve been in in the last few years keep all the CDs behind the counter and only have cases on display, which adds enormously to the difficulty. Downloading an album, on the other hand, requires a certain level of computer know-how, but if that knowledge is present requires only a few mouse-clicks and some time. The barrier to committing the crime is extremely low.

    Coupled to that is that precisely the same process is followed for downloading thousands of dollars worth of professional software. I can see where they’re coming from. The ongoing worldwide process of dealing with the internet and intellecual property is a fascinating one, for example with the Spanish decision of last weekend and the precedent it sets there.

    I think it’d be interesting to see an age breakdown of this index, as I get the impression that values regarding theft and intellectual property may be significantly different between Gen Y and older generations.

  • 4
    Jeremy
    July 24th, 2009 18:36

    “Surely the bigger problem here is that it is hard to rank theft independently of the value of what is stolen? Illegally copying a song is less serious than walking out of a shop with a laptop or camera without paying for it. But illegally copying valuable software is more serious than pinching a $1.50 newspaper.”

    Not under the Draconian code!

  • 5
    fxh
    July 24th, 2009 22:07

    if a relatively cash strapped graphics student copies and burns Adobe Photoshop it’s a lie to say adobe is losing $1500 – the student won’t be buying Pshop anyway. If that same student runs into the newsagent and snaffles a copy of the glossy mag “Sexy Nudos Go Berserk ” then the newsagent does lose the $5 he has to pay Murdoch Family publishing for the mag not returned unsold.

    [not to mention that for decades Adobe has prospered by letting students get “free” “illegal” copies of its expensive software (theres not a graphics school in the world that doesnt have its servers full of free Adobe software on a wink wink don’t ask don’t tell basis) and getting them hooked so that when they go to work in business they insist on Adobe products]

  • 6
    caf
    July 27th, 2009 10:59

    Desiring to be punched in the face isn’t a crime, but supplying a punch in the face is. I don’t see a contradiction there.