Not too long ago, 20th Century reformers of theft law tried to transform a hodgepodge of what they thought were arbitrary, overly technical, and loophole-ridden legal rules into an easier and more synthesized law of theft.
However, according to Professor Stuart Green of Rutgers School of Law-Newark, they did so in a way that tossed out our common understanding of moral principals, the way theft is committed, and the kind of property stolen.
Professor Green explains that modern-day society constantly “commodifies” information and similar intangibles, which only further blurs the boundary between theft that can land you in the slammer and simple copying and pasting.
To make his point, he asks whether it counts as stealing if we piggyback on our neighbor’s wireless connection, take paperclips home with us from work for non-work-related projects, or purchase a lost prototype of an iPhone lost in a bar (which actually happened not too long ago).
If nothing else, his lectures and new book, 13 Ways to Steal a Bicycle, help reveal that the law needs to catch up with technology.
Professor Green uses real-life cases to make his overall point: the way we legally define theft needs to be radically improved in order to easily answer the above questions.
While it is easy to tell whether an individual is shoplifting in a local department store, understanding the outer-limits of theft as it relates to personal information in the Digital Age is far more complicated.
Professor Leo Katz of the University of Pennsylvania Law School commented that “theft law is strange and this book tries to explain that strangeness — why it matters so much just exactly how something is stolen, by robbery, larceny, fraud, or other means; why only certain things are considered capable of being stolen; why the theft of electricity, sexual services, or glory are so problematic.”
Green wants his ideas to be thought of as more than simply scholarly or pedantic.
Ultimately, he hopes they can be used to motivate legislators to revamp the way the criminal law is applied in modern-day society.