Internet piracy occurs when copyrighted digital files are unlawfully reproduced and/or distributed on the Internet. Piracy can be done with music, movies, e-books, software, and other files. Many people see internet piracy as a worldwide crime problem because it is relatively easy to commit and difficult to catch. Among the first types of files to be pirated were music files known as mp3s. In the 1990s, many file sharing programs were developed which provided an easy way to share these types of files. The incredible popularity of these programs has resulted in a backlash from the artistic community, which see the increase in pirated music as a loss of profits. Different countries have different laws regarding mp3 sharing. In Canada and Europe, it is legal to have copied music files for personal use, whereas in the United States it is illegal. In most Western countries, it is illegal to have pirated movie files.
New technologies like the computer and the Internet create a problem for copyright law. They make sharing information easier and faster over long distances, but the traditional copyright system relies on the ability of copyright holders to control who has the ability to access and copy their work. Copyright owners and producers lose billions of dollars per year due to internet piracy. Several pieces of legislation have been proposed to combat internet piracy. In the United States, the two main bills are the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). These bills would allow copyright holders to forbid online advertising networks to work with foreign websites involved in pirating. It would also forbid search engines from linking to such sites. A larger effort against internet piracy is the multinational treaty Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). If passed, the agreement would establish an international legal framework for targeting internet piracy, and create a new international governing body (similar to the World Trade Organization).
Those in favor of the legislation cite statistics showing that over the next five years, over a million jobs and up to 240 billion Euros will be lost in the European Union due to internet piracy. This huge lost in profit not only harms the job market, but it limits the amount of research and development funds available for creating new products. The rate of innovation and the quality of products on the market could decrease. Furthermore, pirated material can be sold at lesser quality or connected to viruses and hacking programs.
Opponents of the proposed legislation claim that it infringes on fundamental rights including freedom of expression and privacy. Many fear that if companies or governments have the power to cut off access to websites that have connections with piracy, even unknowingly, this could limit internet innovations in the future. The next YouTube, Wikipedia, or Facebook might not be possible if such laws are passed. The Internet has fundamentally changed the way people access information (including intellectual property, such as music, movies, and books). Many people believe copyright laws need to change as well.
What do you think? Is internet piracy a problem? What is the solution?
Internet Piracy – Printable worksheet with discussion questions