We are all familiar with the term piracy and its original historical meaning, which was basically a description used for robbery with violence at sea by pirates.
In our digital modern world, internet piracy is a new form of robbery, without the violence, but with the same consequences as its seafaring predecessors.
Internet piracy is the term used to describe acts of copyright infringement, which is basically theft, but more complicated than that in the eyes of the law.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property and is designed to give the originator of material such as music and movies, the right to be paid for their work and have control over the distribution and selling of their copyrighted material.
The traditional view of internet piracy is when someone knowingly and deliberately carries out an act of copying and distributing something over the internet for others to view, without the express permission of the original owner of the material.
There are numerous motivational reasons why someone would choose to do this but one of the main incentives seems to be price, due to an unwillingness or even inability to pay the price requested by the legitimate seller.
Another key factor seems to be consumers desire for immediacy. When the latest James Bond movie or any other box-office blockbuster is released, there are many movie fans online who simply don’t want to wait any longer than they have to in order to see it, which leads some unscrupulous distributors to encourage internet piracy by illegally copying the film and distributing without permission.
Worldwide problem – different views
Internet piracy is a worldwide phenomenon because the planet is wired to the world wide web, but one of the issues that film and music distributors, or anyone with a copyrighted product like software for example, has to contend with, is the fact that different countries take widely differing views about acts of internet piracy.
Spain is an interesting paradox when it comes to copyright violation. Anyone caught illegally downloading material could face a jail sentence that ranges from six months to six years, but an estimated 50% of all internet users in Spain have downloaded or viewed pirated content, because they can normally do so for free and crucially, piracy restrictions don’t appear to be taken seriously in Spain.
Some argue that the fact that they can access most pirated material for free, this seems to outweigh any moral or ethical dilemmas they might have about committing internet piracy.
Copyright owners in the United States tend to take a less forgiving view and there are numerous high profile examples of lawsuits being issued against individual infringers or for example, cases like the one where MGM Studios successfully filed a suit against P2P file-sharing services Streamcast and Grokster.
Online piracy numbers
If you are in any doubt about the scale of the problem, you only have to see some of the numbers and statistics collated to understand that internet piracy could almost considered to be a worldwide epidemic.
Infographic by- GO-Gulf;
Survey results suggest that about 70% of online users see nothing wrong in online piracy and a staggering 22% of all global internet bandwidth is used in connection with internet piracy.
The music industry is estimated to lose over $12 billion a year as result of piracy and $59 billion of software was illegally downloaded in one year alone. China tops the list of countries where the most internet piracy takes place and Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office are considered to be the most pirated software.
Legislation to deal with piracy
There are two specific pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the U.S, namely SOPA in the House and a companion bill known as PIPA through the Senate.
SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA is the Protect IP Act.
The fundamental purpose of SOPA is to provide an intellectual property owner such as a movie studio or a record label, the ability to close down any foreign site where they have a legitimate copyright claim against them.
For example, this act gives a film studio the right to demand that Google remove the offending site from its search results and instruct PayPal that they should no longer accept payments to or from that site. It also gives them the opportunity to demand that the site’s ISP is removed in order to prevent any more people from visiting.
The issue that many have with these far-reaching powers is that SOPA in its original format, allowed intellectual property owners take these actions without the need for a single court appearance or a judicial sign-off.
Offending site owners who were accused of piracy were served with a five day quarantine notice in which time they either had to abide with the request to shut down the site or make a court challenge.
Not surprisingly, a more recent version of the bill has softened this stance on the five day window and court permission is now required to shut down a site.
There is still a good faith belief clause in the SOPA Act which allows someone like Google to delist video content on the basis that they think a copyright infringement has occurred, which has caused some critics to question whether these action could be taken for commercial competitive reasons, giving a bigger company an unfair advantage if that was the case.
It is also argued that we already have the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which deals with requests to take down infringing material, and there have been numerous examples of this happening on a regular basis to know that this act has powers that work.
The difference between the different acts is basically the fact that DMCA requires operators to remove specific content that is confirmed to be infringing copyright restrictions whereas SOPA and PIPA are more about removing the entire domain and ridding the offending site from the internet completely.
Identify and avoid piracy
Although the figures suggest that internet piracy is commonplace, there are many of us who want to avoid being caught downloading illegal content and have genuine concerns about downloading content that infringes copyright laws and could potentially lead to a prosecution.
One of the potential consequences of visiting sites that contain pirated content is that you might also find your personal information is compromised and you could possibly visit a counterfeit website that is actually collecting personal information for illegal use.
Software like Web of Trust (WOT) might help protect you against malicious sites.
With regard to internet piracy, it is often all too easy to become an unsuspecting victim of what is known as end-user piracy.
Some common examples of how end-user piracy occurs include:
Using one licensed copy and then installing the program on multiple computers or servers
Copying disks for installation and subsequent distribution
Acquiring academic or other restricted software and then using it for an unqualified purpose
Swapping disks inside or outside of your workplace
It is always good policy to ensure that your company is aware of the risks associated with inadvertently making unlicensed copies of any copyrighted software.
Pirate sites regularly offer software and other content for download over the internet and they do this in any number of ways. Some regular ploys adopted include:
You find a website that is offering free downloads in exchange for uploading another program. Taking advantage of an offer like this actually makes you a software pirate yourself.
There are online distributors supposedly offering special deals on behalf of the software publisher, such as inventory liquidation or bankruptcy sales, but they are actually offering illegal content.
Internet auction sites exist where they offer counterfeit, out-of-channel, or otherwise pirated software. Try to verify the authenticity of the software before being tempted to download.
You will also find peer-to-peer networks that enable unauthorized transfer of copyrighted programs
The cost of piracy
Leaving aside the moral issue of internet piracy for a moment and whether you hold the opinion that big companies should not charge so much for their products and material in order to discourage the act, there is potentially a cost and consequences for you as well.
Piracy can even cost you your identity. It is a fact that pirated software is far more likely to contain spyware which has the ability to steal personal and confidential information from your computer and make you a victim of identity thieves.
Your computer can also become seriously compromised and more vulnerable to virus attacks and in some extreme circumstances, irreversible damage to your hard drive can occur as a result of using some pirated software.
Always be cautious of auction sites or sites offering software or DVD’s or games at prices that are simply too low to be a genuine product.