In a recent discussion on another SE forum a user (@JAB) complained that "theft" was an inappropriate descriptor for software piracy. His exact statement was:
I've never found "stealing" to be an appropriate descriptor for software piracy (loss of potential profit versus loss of merchandise, etc.). Counterfeiting might be more accurate, though even that isn't really appropriate.
So, my question is: Is there a more appropriate term for this concept of "loss of potential profit" caused by copyright infringement (making unauthorized copies instead of buying the item) ?
UPDATE: When I started this question I tried to keep my personal biases out of the wording. The comments seem to indicate that might not have been a good idea. For my part I personally think "theft" and "stealing" are very appropriate, but I do think the question is a valid one despite my own bias.
Legalese aside, I was taught as a child that when you take something that is not yours that is stealing. As English speakers we have evolved a number of specialized words to give nuance to the types of stealing possible. Consider the following (these are crude definitions for example only so please don't nitpick): embezzlement essentially is stealing from inside a company; shoplifting is stealing from a retailer by stealth during business hours, burglary is stealing by stealth when the owner is away, robbery is stealing by use of violence against other people, carjacking is stealing of a ground vehicle by robbery, hijacking is stealing of a air or water vehicle by robbery, conversion is stealing something you were entrusted with, etc.
Now we have "software piracy" and the question is: is piracy just another synonym for "stealing"/"theft" or is there a better word to define what is happening?
If theft is "taking something that does not belong to you", does the fact that the item is intangible make it UN-takable (as suggested by one of the comments below)? Is there a different word for "taking" an intangible?
Also, what exactly is stolen when software piracy occurs? Is it just the binary ones & zeros in the file? Is it the lost potential sale? What about the owner's rights (copyrights, intellectual property), are they being "taken" away from him/her? All of the above?
Please note: I am not particularly interested in the moral or legal issues, just the linguistic issue of looking for the right descriptive words. However I realize that the moral and legal issues will need to be raised in order to find the right word(s).
PS: There is an enlightening little essay written in the user comments to a blog post I ran across a few years ago (see "The Box and the Software"). It's a little lengthy but the the last few paragraphs about "the box" are very much on topic to this discussion.