See also: Intellectual Property | Darknet | Fair Use


What is Piracy?

The offering or use of intellectual property (downloading or sharing of data, music, movies and software, etc) outside the conventional legal framework, without consent, both for profit or for nothing in return. Piracy is the result of the ease of copy of products from computer to computer seamlessly and perfectly an unlimited number of times.

Some view piracy like catching a train without a ticket, or parking without paying the meter, rather than stealing something from somebody. The social debate related to piracy represents a tug of war between intellectual property and proprietary commerce versus anonymity, civil rights and freedom of information.

The Digital Flood

With the growth of modern communication tools, piracy has flourished on the streets, in cinemas, offices and in our homes. The BSA says piracy costs its members at least $13 billion a year with a third of global software being installed with purchase of the correct license. The major problem for those wanting to stop the flood is that in the digital world, it costs money to prevent copies from being made.

Software piracy is most rampant in developing markets, China and Vietnam led the Top 20 pirating countries list, which have software piracy rates of 92 %, followed by the Ukraine, which has a 91 % piracy rate.

Further, if these products were not available via piracy, would they be used at all? That is: are estimated losses due to piracy actual losses or presumed income? Does piracy help create standards?

Different groups have responded to these issues in different ways:

The consumer

Piracy has enjoyed continuous, increasing popularity ever since information technology went mainstream. Digital media are much easier to get, preview, and store and the quality of Internet media continues to increase while file size continues to decrease. For instance, compressed, the first four “Harry Potter” books could fit on a single 1.4 megabyte diskette, saying nothing of the 700 megabyte burnable CDs and 300 gigabyte harddrives. Many movies in DivX format can fit on a single compact disc and audio compression has even decreased in size, now fitting around 20 full-length albums on one CD. Books-on-tape, compressing simple vocals, can fit even more: between 60 and 80 full-length CDs!

The industry

The big-name labels claim that this small, consumer-friendly digital system hurts business and is nothing short of theft while many independent labels claim its a boon. There are two major issues, one constant and one new development. First, musicians have almost always made their money from live performance. Second, digital technology also makes producing and distributing music far less expensive, formerly in the hundred-thousand dollar range for big-name acts – now only a few thousand or less using digital equipment. The cost of the media – the disks themselves – is only a few cents. Distributing via MP3 or other formats – such as with eMusic iTunes, MusicMatch, or Napster 2 – is even lower. Distribution on your own server is still lower.

Afraid of the internet free-for-all, the few entities that have embraced digital media have done so with great caution, adding digital rights management to their products.

The legal team

One of the strongest anti-piracy advocates, the Recording Industry Association of America, claims that music piracy continuously causes a loss in sales and that people who illegally download copyright material from the net are thieves. While the music industry is losing its physical product – formerly stock-piled plastic cases in record stores – this same technological dilemma confronts those who produce movies, books and many other information based products; they must face the Internet‘s near-costless reproduction.


Some people on all sides believe this piracy consumers enjoy and the Industry is alarmed by can increase spending on copyright material and attention for its talented creators. For instance, Internet media is lossy and never as good as the original. Also, many artists also have a relationship with their fans that allows them to ask for financial support by way of buying albums, merchandise, or attending performances.

Currently, DVD sales and movie revenue is not down despite online movie trading.

Piracy is good?

  1. Morally, taking or copying something that does not belong to you is unethical.
  2. Supporting a thing’s author or creator through means other than direct-payment are moral but not always legal.
  3. Creative people, due to pressures from their industry, cannot always express the best way fans and supporters can patronize them. It is therefore ethically uncertain to assume one way is better than another.
  4. The capitalism-based price/value ecosystem is hosed. Hence, a competitor (e.g. Paint Shop Pro) with a lower price than a professional, more advanced application (e.g. Photoshop) is hosed because people learn the pirated professional, more advanced application. Cost-free applications which are of less similar of less quality as the less advanced competitor (Paint Shop Pro in this example) also have problems with adoption because of this (e.g. think about the GIMP).

In legal matters, there are many areas of sketchy concern as judicial systems all over the world become aware of technology. Some types of piracy are definitely worse than others and can evoke much stronger action from the law. Despite this, piracy in any form is still illegal.

Although many consumers hold contempt for the music and legal industries that can work as exploitive middle-men to artists (such as many see the RIAA), many of these systems provide the marketing to inform listeners via radio, television, etc. in the first place. However, as the internet progressively becomes a more viable distribution method, middle-men are increasingly unnecessary (such as Amazon.com who hold zero inventory and eBay, who connects the buyer directly to the seller).

Some believe the RIAA and other middle-men are struggling for their right to exist in a wholesaler’s market.


  • The most villified of all piracy is that of selling pirated material, taking money away from those that created it and putting it in others’ pockets. Prosecutors tend to go after these violators first as they are the most unethical and they make good headlines.


  • Enjoying something you didn’t pay for thoroughly and then doing nothing to better the lives of the people who created it. For instance: getting your new favorite band’s album on a file sharing network, listening to it 100 times and then doing nothing in return.
  • Purchasing a CD, game, book, or other media and then making copies for all your friends and their friends. This destroys the word-of-mouth advertising many other products enjoy.


  • Enjoying something you didn’t pay for but sponsoring the creators in other ways such as going to shows, buying merchandise such as tee shirts, donating to the cause via a PayPal, and/or giving them publicity through Web postings and word-of-mouth.
  • Getting an entire album of a much-touted radio band or one-hit-wonder and realizing the album was a bait-and-switch: only one song was quality and all the rest were filler. This is a type of deceptive marketing should not be encouraged through a purchase.


  • Some copyright-protection organizations claim making a copy for your own backup purposes this is a form of piracy. However, fair use advocates say that this is absolutely ethical. They point to the nature that purchasing a different artistic product, say an stone statue, there is little fear that it will be stolen or damaged. Yet CDs are fragile and easily scratched, as well as having only a ten year shelf life. Some further claim the gradual degeneration of CDs, cassette tapes, and LPs over time is a ploy by the industry to make people re-buy items. If true, this is unethhical on the part of the industry.


  • The most positive – sometimes even encouraged – form of piracy is that of music exchange on file sharing networks by up-and-coming bands. Notably, the hard-rock band “Kittie” and the contemporary musician David Grey were both benefactors of Internet music distribution. European dance music, with so many different genres and high costs of imports, has its best distribution source on the Internet. The RIAA would flatly claims this is still theft but many artists want special exception. Bands such as Radiohead, Dave Matthews, Everclear, and Limp Bizkit have all encouraged the download of their music via Internet distribution. All still relevant and big-selling artists.

Despite this sliding scale being better Karma, not paying for something you should have is illegal unless otherwise specified. Even some music recorded live is not considered freely distributable.

Note: The MPAA and RIAA is actively pursuing both “bad” and “middle” violators, despite the possibility that 10 year-old Mikey from Chattawuga getting sued for 10,000 dollars is horrible publicity. Update: this really happened to a 12 year old girl and will probably be a PR nightmare.

The industry’s reaction

Publicly, many in the industry is adamate that any form of Piracy is always bad. Yet the content industry is effectively playing both sides; using the Internet for free distribution and marketing and, at the same time, using litigation to maintain some type of control. Whether they are helpless victims of a quickly changing system or confused relics of “The Old Way” may depend on who you ask.

Another issue in the legal grey area is that of products that are no longer available for sale anywhere so the only method to gain them is piracy. This includes out-of-print music, books, videogames or software. While the distribution of copywrited items is illegal, what if it is available by no other method?


Although most artists wish to control their content in the way that they created it – some recognizing copyright laws are getting out of hand, some interested in the open enjoyment of their work in any form, and some very concerned with their sales being hurt by piracy. Some consumers refuse using products with Digital Rights Management that ties their hands, though the iTunes‘ lax copying rules has been very successful.

DRM is common in computer games have been pirated since they were placed on disks, almost expected but, in music, no DRM system as yet has been well-received by consumers.

Other options besides changing copyright laws that continually diminish fair use laws include the Creative Commons system. Note that artists make very little money from Music club services like BMG that offer “11 CDs for 1 cent!”

Origin of the Term

“Piracy” stems from the maritime term. It is the robbery, kidnapping, or other violence at sea or from the sea without lawful authority. A “pirate” is different from a “privateer” in that a privateer was commissioned to attack ships owned by a certain country. This was a way to do damage to sea shipping lanes without declaring war on a country. One example is when England hired privateers to attack gold-laden Spanish ships in an effort to cripple the Spanish treasury. Usually privateers were given safe harbor (docking facilities without legal reprocussion) by the country in exchange for about 1/5 to 1/2 of the money obtained from the attack.

Also note the term “Buccaneer”, which is a reference to the French settlers in the Caribbean who used to smoke wild boar and oxen. Boucanier literally means “one who hunts wild pork”. It is a term used to describe pirates and privateers who had their roots in the Caribbean.

The term piracy was adopted by the computer world to refer to the illegal act of reproducing intellectual property or copyright material without the owner’s permission. There has been a recent push to rename the original meaning of “piracy” to “[http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/History/By-Topic/Maritime/Piracy/?il=1

maritime piracy]” to separate it from it’s more contemporary computer counterpart. Some famous, real pirates may also be of interest.

Alternatives to Piracy

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