Then read this great article that breaks down copyright law really well, and also offers steps to avoid breaking the law: How You’re Breaking the Law Every Day (and What You Can Do About It)
Derek Bambauer, Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, makes a similar argument to one I always make. Imagine you are a student studying for exams. You are in the library and you look something up in the encyclopedia. Bingo, you find the page that you need. You head over to the copy machine that is readily available in the library and make a photo copy of the page. You take the page home with you for further study. Technically, you just committed copyright infringement. But is the copyright police going to go after you? No! Because you took the page home with you for a personal use and the copyright holders of the encyclopedia would never find out that you made a copy of the book. (Unless they hunted you down like a fox, and that would be creepy.)
But now consider technological advances. Today, instead of making a physical photo copy and taking it home, you might make a digital copy and upload it to a public server that you can access easily. This makes it much easier for the copyright holders of the encyclopedia to come after you. (Just think, if you can access it easily, then they can too.) But there is no difference in the reason why you made the copy. You are still using the copy for studying purposes. The only difference here is that uploading the document on the Internet allowed the copyright holders to find you easier. So why should you be prevented from keeping that copy for studying purposes?
Copyright holders are becoming too draconian in protecting their copyright. There are two competing policies in copyright law: 1) provide incentives for authors’ to create works by protecting their intellectual property; and 2) keep certain information open and free for the public to use in order to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” Even though some of us commit copyright infringement on a daily basis, most of the time we are doing it to further our education and knowledge. Engaging in conduct like making a photo copy of an encyclopedia is an accepted form of copyright infringement for that very reason, because it is generally understood to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” By enforcing their copyrights too harshly, copyright holders are acting inconsistently with the true purpose of copyright law. Authors should certainly enjoy intellectual property protection for their works, but not to the point where the rest of the world cannot utilize the work in ways that further education and knowledge.