There are no absolutes. Laws are creations of man and man is fallible.
Stealing is a matter of interpretation. If a nation goes to war with another and takes their land, is that stealing? No, we have invented another word, it's called "conquest". If I take something and nobody notices it's gone and I later claim it as mine, only I know the difference - in the eyes of the world it is mine. Thus the phrase "posession in 9/10th's of the law". Yes, it was stolen, but if that theft is not known, it is irrelevant because the law cannot or will not do anything about it. The same is true if I simply "find" something. If I find a $20 bill on the street with no identifying marks and there is no one around, no way to get it back to its owner, is it stealing to keep it?
Before there was copyright law it was not illegal for me to print someone else's book or sing their song. Was it still wrong then? If you would say yes, is that because it is illegal today, or because you feel it is somehow "intrinsically" wrong? If the former then you presume that all our laws today our "right" and should not be open to interpretation or change and history would argue that you are wrong as laws are always changing and being reinterpreted. If the latter, is it right to expect everyone to agree with you? Not if your neighbor with the the shotgun has anything to do with it.
Laws are essentially the agreed upon standards of a society, but as I've said those standards can change, just as the standards and morals of societies do. Is there any absolute right? Not unless you believe your own word to be the one and only valid one, or if "might makes right". I don't subscribe to either perspective.
When it comes to theft of intellectual property it's even more of a slippery slope and trying to define it in absolute terms is just asking for trouble. What if I have the same idea as you, but I have the money to patent it and you don't. It's now "my" idea, but you had it too. This is clearly just an arbitrary distinction - the only difference between my idea and yours is that I was able to use "the system" to protect my claim on it. It doesn't make it truly my idea any more than it is yours, it is only so in the eyes of the law.
Back in the days before recording technology musicians performed every piece of music live and they were paid for every performance. Along came recording technology and there was a huge uproar and backlash by the performers against it. Ultimately the technology won, as it usually does, but the artists were in some ways right to mistrust the technology - nowadays the majority of payment goes to the distributors (record companies), *not* the producers of the actual copyrighted work (the music). After all nobody is saying that the CD itself is the copyrighted product, are they? There's a separate patent for that. If I rip the CD to MP3, where the bits that compose the audio signal are completely different, it is still a copyrighted work. It is the audio itself that is copyrighted, the words and music too (separately, I believe). Yet this too can be a dangerous definition because in the digital world there are ways to make something completely unlike itself, such that the copying of it should not be illegal - after all it is just 1's and 0's and cannot be independently analyzed to have any resemblance to the original work, even when "played" - yet it must somehow *become* illegal the moment that thing again becomes liken to the copyrighted work (see below). And then we must ask how exactly we define that copyrighted work. If it is music must we listen to it to determine?
So clearly the trickiest bits are defining what exactly is copyrighted. Let's say I take an e-book and encrypt it with a standard encryption algorithm. It is now completely unrecognizable as the original work. Without the key no one may know its contents and it is effectively *not* the original, copyrighted material. Yet, almost magically, if I use a decrypting program and the right key, I can get back this copyrighted material out of "thin air", in a sense. So then what if I give my friend the encyrpted file, but not the key. Is this copyright violation? He might be able to guess the key or crack it, but then where is the copyrighted information - in the file or the key? Without the other both are meaningless.
Worse still, what if I use a file archiving program to compress and split the file in two. I give one half to one friend, the other have to another friend. By themselves the two halves aren't even halves of a book, they can't be read because they can't be decompressed. Are they still the copyrighted material they originated from? If you were talking about real-world products you would probably say no. If I take a book and rearrange its physical structure so it is in its most compact form possible then cut it in half and give each half to different friends, it's clearly not still a book. My friends can't get together and suddenly have a whole book. Yet somehow this *is* possible in the digital realm.
If my computer were to be siezed and examined for copyright violation the encrypted file would not truly be the e-book, it could not be read as such and if the key is destroyed and I have forgotten it, it is for all intents and purposes *not* the e-book and never will be again. Yet a sophisticated cracker could probably figure out the password and decrypt it. What if you decrypt random data and it creates the Mona Lisa? Highly unlikely, but possible. So then what seems most important is my intent, at least as far as what is provable and considerable to the law. Does this then come down to evaluating intent, and if so how do you prove intent? This has always been a difficult thing to deal with in court.
The possibility even exists for completely random data to be interpreted as text or audio or anything else and there is the further possibility that this interpretation of random data could resemble or even exactly reproduce a copyrighted work. This is not possible in "the real world", at least not by random chance, yet it is fully possible in the digital world. Yes these are tricky arguments, but without an absolute definition of what exactly is copyrighted, and without being able to consistently and accurately distinguish between copyrighted and uncopyrighted work, the law is meaningless since it can't be consistently enforced.
The law, as I've said before, is changeable, it is not an absolute. We did not always have copyright protection or patenting, they are not inherent rights. I would agree that some system needs to be in place to encourage innovaters to innovate and our current system was designed to do that, but let's not confuse that with some intrinsic "righteousness" for the idea of "owning" a concept. There is no such thing except where we have provided that facility, merely as a means to the end of encouraging and rewarding innovation and progress. Ownership is not the end goal, it is merely the means to that end.
I am not making arguments for pirating, rather I am showing that this issue is very difficult precisely because of the lack of absolutes in the equation. The definition of theft itself is not absolute - especially where digital elements are concerned - let alone the laws regarding it, or the items that are being stolen. Don't confuse my intent - I *want* copyright, theft, etc. to be clearly and absolutely defined so that 1: I may safely comply with copyright, etc. without confusion 2: my own copyrighted works may be safely protected without loose interpretation or vaguery. I want to know that I can protect my creations and that any creation I have is truly owned by me legally. With the above discussed uncertanties I don't feel that is truly possible. Most people just take all that for granted, just as they take many, many things in life for granted, but that doesn't mean they are not legitimate issues.
Just a few things to think about. I'm not an anarchist, don't take me too seriously.