Here now, this is the rationalization a lot of people use to lower the crime, but that is not the cause.
The reason why piracy has been so rampant is because they made it harder to do the right thing than to do the right one. That is if I bought a DVD it would only work in certain regions, I’d get punished with having to watch annoying trailers, and I’d need the player. By pirating the movie I got a lot more flexibility. The same with music: by buying the physical album I’d be stuck with a device that soon becomes obsolete, I’d have to pay for songs I don’t want. In other words I would get punished for doing the right thing, we were taught to go for piracy.
The important thing is that once you decide to do the wrong thing, comes the justification. And the justification is one were we want to claim that what we are doing is somehow right or even righteous.
So ideas are a complicated manner, the pattern of “ownership” isn’t a clear mapping to the ownership of something. Yet creators deserve some control over their ideas in order to make use of them as they best seem fit (yes even open source requires that people don’t pirate), since otherwise there would be no incentive to share, or even create new ideas.
The fact that a movie isn’t like a car is nothing that limits things. The fact is that a car is nothing like a house, and because of these there are different rules for something that is a piece of land or something in a piece of land, and something that is a thing. The same thing happens with ideas. Ideas have a lot of properties of land: you can’t move it around, and it kind of needs to be shared to an extend (people may need to move through land).
So what are the problems with IP? Well the first is that many people have decided they’ve got strong feelings and therefore want to fix it. This is part of what worries me, people have strong opinions about IP without really understanding why or how it came to be. The other is that IP was originally done in a hacky way with assumptions that don’t apply: ideas now are hardly bound by physical copies, and as such now it’s clear how much easier it is to copy ideas vs. things. Copying ideas is also fundamental to the evolution and survival of ideas (one of the main purposes of patents is to guarantee that a publicly accessible copy of your idea exists). Again the creators deserve something in exchange for creating and sharing ideas, we give them some level of control over the idea and everyone is happy.
Can this be abused? Certainly, though as we’ve seen not very effectively. Can the system be improved? Probably, though I think that we are far from getting the “aha” moment of how to do it. It’ll probably be something that could have been implemented on the 18th century law systems, but there wasn’t a need and the solution clearly isn’t obvious.
Now piracy doesn’t mean loss of possible income. It means loss of incentive to make ideas. This new era will see less epic albums as it was during the 70s, now bands will have to spend more time travelling around, instead of locking themselves up to create “the perfect album”. We’ll see more singles, and more improvisation, but probably less experimentation and out-there songs (as they won’t have a full album to amortize the cost). Maybe nothing would have changed had the music industry adapted and released their equivalent of the iTunes Store in the 90s. Maybe everything would have been different had they chosen to decide how the market evolved instead of just thinking it could be wished away. I don’t know.
TL;DR: It’s not so much laws that are ridiculous, but the way in which many creative companies went about adapting to changes that was absurd.