The law of averages ironically dictates that most of us are law abiding citizens. Most of us wouldn’t even dream of intentionally breaking the law. Particularly, if it meant that we could be exposed to the threat of punishment such as a fine or indeed even a prison sentence. But we’re sure there are lots of cases where people have broken the law without even thinking about it. There are a few reasons for this. First, they may not classify it as actually breaking the law.
We can look at piracy as an example of this. In the early 2000’s a campaign to stop internet piracy was based around the idea of showing people it is actually a crime. The reason for this was simple. The internet days of piracy had begun. It was difficult for people to understand that downloading something without actually taking any physical action was stealing. You may remember the ‘you wouldn’t steal a DVD, you wouldn’t steal a purse’, etc. Today the internet piracy campaign is based around the idea that it leads to an inferior product. We’re not sure which of these campaigns was more successful at preventing piracy. But actually, piracy has grown so perhaps neither worked effectively. We’ll talk more about this a little further down.
There’s also the possibility that maybe you don’t think it should be a law at all. For instance, there are plenty of people who have been caught speeding down a completely deserted highway. If the road is deserted is it actually dangerous to drive at slightly higher speeds. Many people would argue there is no danger to other people at all. Particularly if you are completely alone on the road. But this doesn’t change the fact that the police can and will still pull you over.
Then there’s the possibility that maybe you just had no idea the law existed. The common example of this would be singing happy birthday in public. The song ‘Happy Birthday’ is actually owned by the original writers. So, if you sing it in public, you’re held by copyright laws. Now, as far as we know no one has been sued for singing happy birthday. But, we wouldn’t be surprised if there had been at least one case of someone trying. Particularly, if the writers are American where suing is significantly more common. So have you broken the law? Well, let’s find out by looking at some common laws people dodge, ignore or are completely ignorant of.
This is an example of a law that exists in one part of the world, but you won’t find anywhere else. Jaywalking is where you walk across the street when the signal is off. In states across America, this is considered illegal. Although you’d be hard pressed to find many traffic officers actually enforcing this particular law, it does happen occasionally. The idea behind this law is simple. If people cross without the signal, they could cause an accident. They might even cause a car to dodge them and hit someone else. Tourists, of course, have no idea this is a law. If they are coming from Britain, they might not think twice about crossing without a signal. There’s nothing stop you doing this in the UK. To our knowledge, no British tourist has ever been arrested for jaywalking in America.
But this does point to an important fact. If you are going on Holiday abroad, you must make sure that you are aware of the local laws. Otherwise, you might indeed end on the wrong side of a courtroom. This has frequently happened to tourists in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. There have been several high profile cases where tourists have been arrested for crimes they wouldn’t have been guilty of back home. For instance, in Dubai, female tourists are expected to adhere to the country’s belief system. They must cover up around populated areas such as the middle of the city. Now people may not be aware of this because every time there has been a film located in Dubai, there has been scantily clad, women. But in reality, women seen like this in public could get in serious trouble. That could seem crazy to people in America where it’s quite common to see people in town walking around in bikinis in the summer months. They certainly wouldn’t think twice about showing their legs.
Not a day passes without another report on Internet Piracy in the media. In fact, just yesterday it was announced that The Grand Tour is now the most widely pirated show of all time. If you don’t know The Grand Tour is a new show by the original stars of the British show Top Gear. Why is it being pirated so much? Well, it could be because it has universal appeal. The premise of the show sees the presenters traveling to different places around the world to film. It might also be that people aren’t willing to pay the full Amazon Prime subscription to see it. But we suspect it might just be because people don’t think they should have to pay for it. It’s very difficult to distinguish the new show from Top Gear. Top Gear was and still is free to watch on British TV. Britain coincidentally is where most people are pirating the show. So, there’s definitely a link here between what people expect to not have to pay for.
But internet piracy is a complicated matter. You can say that it’s always illegal and that is technically true. But it’s fair to say that anyone in the music or film industry are the victims here. Over the years, these individuals have had a varied stance to piracy. Some of the artists themselves like Drake have claimed they don’t care if their music is pirated as long as it’s listened to. Others like Lily Allen have gone as far to say people who pirate music aren’t fans. While the film industry actually formed SOPA to stop piracy once and for all. But peculiarly a pattern has emerged where the Oscar contenders are released online for free just before award season. You might think this is a high profile case of theft. But interestingly, it happens like clockwork and the films are dropped almost one by one. It suggests this is actually a controlled leak to drum up some publicity. So, piracy could arguably even be useful to the film industry. With these mix of views, it’s difficult to know where you stand with piracy. But it does actually point to the larger issue of cyber crime.
Have you ever broken the law without realizing it online? Again, you might instantly say no, but is that accurate? Actually, probably not. There have been several crimes where people have argued a pop up online led them to an illegal site. Their criminal defense attorney suggested this meant they did not intend to view the site. Wherever or not this is true would be difficult to say. It is fair to say that we have no control over where pop-up sites lead us. However, it’s the original sites that determine what popups appear. So, if you find yourself on an illegal popup, you were probably already on an illegal site, to begin with.
A lot of people were outraged when Britain passed the so-called ‘snooper bill.’ This gives the UK government more power to see and view what people are doing online. It limits the right to freedom and privacy in the Uk. In fact, many digital companies have suggested they will not be abiding by the new laws due to the breach of privacy.
There is an argument here that if you’re not committing crimes, online you have nothing to worry about. But as we have already shown, it is difficult to ensure you are abiding by internet laws online. So, someone could theoretically commit a crime without realizing it or intending to. Although, arguably these laws are to prevent acts of terrorism. Not to find out whether you are looking at NSFW acts at work. It’s also fair to say these laws are probably in place in most western countries. They are simply not widely advertised.
There’s another gray area with road crimes. Now while committing a road crime is technically breaking the law, many people don’t put it in the same bracket as other criminal activities. Even police officers maybe don’t take it as seriously as they should. A brilliant example of this would be talking on your mobile phone. Technically, if you are using a cell phone while driving in most states, you should be arrested. But guess what? Research has revealed that people are almost never pulled over for using cellphones. One could argue this means the law is being obeyed. But another report revealed thirty percent of people think it’s okay to drive while speaking on the phone. Ten percent meanwhile believe it’s safe to text. So there is a problem here. It gets even more complicated when you realize actions on the road can lead to more serious crimes such as manslaughter.
As you can see, then you may think of yourself as a law abiding citizen. But you might be surprised just how many laws you’ve broken over the years. Whether that’s listening to a song that has been copyrighted, downloading a movie or just crossing the street at the wrong time in NYC.