Here's the deal.
I'm reading the U.S. Copyright Code right now for a project that, hopefully, will be launching on January 1, 2016 so that I can keep myself and my team on the safe and legal side of things. It's about as fun to read as taking a hammer and dropping it on your bits while watching a Congressional Hearing about Congressional Hearings. Yet it brought up these two questions in my mind:
1.) There is a thing that you want to download from the internet. There are no avenues available for you to purchase it from a first party vendor, like Steam or Amazon, and you can only find it in secondary markets (such as used bookstores) and as scans/downloads online. The original intellectual property owners are long since gone and there is, apparently, no one in possession of the IP and no licensing of the the thing in the market (no shirts, books, so forth). Morally, is it okay to download the thing under these circumstances?
A second question:
2.) There is a thing you want to download from the internet. The intellectual property is still owned by a company/individual who makes money off the property but they no longer sell the version of the product you want to download. They have not attempted to make money off the product for a number of years. Like in the above situations there are no avenues available for you to purchase it from a first party vendor, like Steam or Amazon, and you can only find it in secondary markets (such as used bookstores) and as scans/downloads online. Morally, is it okay to download the thing under these circumstances?
Without a doubt if the owner of the copyright has not been dead at least a hundred years (and in many cases 150 years) then the product is not in the public domain - and some things (such as recorded performances of songs) might never pass into the public domain - so in the situations described above nothing that you're contemplating downloading is in the public domain. But there is this whole new thing that has developed in the last few years called abandonware. Which is essentially a situation where the copyright holder has folded and the intellectual property has passed into this realm of limbo where no one, apparently, owns the rights.
After running this blog for the better part of two years I'm firmly convinced that I have some wildly intelligent and thoughtful readers. So I'm turning to you for help because I'm struggling with my own answers to these questions and I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.
I'll be here, waiting.
[Edited on 4/8/2015 at 4:12 PM EST to add the word "Morally" at the beginning of each question to help clarify my questions]