Piracy: Helping or Harming the world?

Nowadays when you hear the term piracy, the first place your mind goes may not be the bandits of the sea, stealing and plummeting ships as they see fit. Instead you may think about a very different type of piracy, one that lacks eye patch and peg legs, but involves an average citizen with an internet connection and a desire to listen to music. 

A major problem in today’s day and age is the use of the internet to download/pirate a myriad of different copyright protected things; from pictures, songs and movies, to programs, games and operating systems. The protection over these items is now facing a very serious threat, which is creating a large divide between producers and consumers.

A large percentage of the consumer population would agree that stealing is illegal and that going into a store to take whatever you want is not something they would support. Why then is piracy such a common and alarmingly OK thing in today’s society? Almost 70% of consumers do not see a problem with piracy, and it has become such a common thing that by 2011 approximately 22% of all global internet bandwidth was used of online piracy [2]. Why has this form of illegal activity gained so much ground and why is it being fought back as hard as it is?

To answer the first part is to go back in a time when the protection offered by copyright was first established. When copyright was established the idea of having a world wide web where digitized versions of protected items could be shared from peer to peer was no where in sight. Now however we have entered into a world dominated by the internet, copyrighted material is not as easy to protect anymore. The digital age made sharing easy, and that only exploded when the idea of peer to peer sharing was established. Without going into extreme detail, with development of a system that allowed computers to interact with each other and send large chucks of data across thousands of miles, the ability to protect digital data became almost zero. There was no longer a way to know if someone copied a file, or put it on a CD. Copyrighted material faced a very serious threat [3].

There was an old campaign ad when pirating first came into play that attempted to juxtapose pirating to stealing in the real world. Stealing a song is as bad as stealing a car? Hardly but the idea was simply stealing is stealing. Here is where the debate over piracy truly flourishes. The main reasons consumers do not see a problem with piracy are due to the facts that it is so easy to hop online and download whatever you are looking for, and almost excessively expensive to do otherwise. Whether its downloading songs from a new artist you discovered or streaming a movie online, it is all but a few clicks away. That coupled with the idea that it seems like such a harmless crime. If I can listen to a song on YouTube, why cant i just download it to listen at my convenience. Who is going to stop me?

Regardless of those facts, pirating in its very nature is illegal. This is a fact many are quick to ignore when downloading a copyright protected album. It infringes on the right of the copyright holder to distribute and sell their works as they see fit. But is the money really taken right from the artist’s pockets when you download something?

Industry and producers of the content would like you to believe so. The main arguments put forth against piracy is that it undermines and steals from the people who create the content being stolen. They argue that piracy has a negative effect on the economy by reducing sales in music/movie industries and many other facets [1]. They estimate that as much as $200 and $250 billion per year is lost due to piracy, as well as the loss of 750,000 American jobs. In response the fight against piracy has been brought into congress, with different bills such as SOPA, PIPA and the countless rehashes of these bills, in attempt to bring piracy to a stop [2]. Are these extreme circumstances really happening and causing detrimental harm to both the artists and the economy as a whole?Capture

Not as much as they would like you to think. The Government Accountability Office came out in 2010 with a report that said these numbers “cannot be substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology.” [4] In simpler terms, the numbers are inflated with no data to back them up. This does not mean that pirating is harmless however. There is a recognizable decrease in revenue in these industries, it just simply is not the caliber advocates such as the MPAA or the music industry would like you to believe. In addition it is debatable to categorize any and every thing downloaded as a lost sale. If you have no money, you would not have been able to purchase that copyright protected item legally. If you have no interest in an artist, you are not going to go buy a new album at full retail price, but for free perhaps you would listen to them. This argument is shaky in the sense that it undermines a lot of economic principles, but makes a good point to show that a vast majority of downloads would have never happened if not for piracy, so its not necessary a lost sale to the artist [4]. That being said it is hardly a justification for piracy, but instead an interesting approach to the consumer ideology of piracy.

The last question to be asked regarding piracy is what can be done? Pirating/streaming music and movies is the preferred method of acquiring them in today’s society, and I believe that may very well result in the laws around piracy reflecting that. To ruin someones life with prison and debt from stealing 30 songs may be seen as excessive by a society that actively engages in piracy. I would suggest a change in the laws, replacing these fines with a fee such as when someone is caught speeding. A slap on the wrist and an inconvenient fine, not incarceration and crippling debt. It is not just the consumers who understands the power piracy has, but even the copyright holders are beginning to accept the new piracy-based industry. Some artists have already taken a firm stand and are attempting to fight against this illegal sharing, but others are embracing and adapting to the new industry. Those who are adapting are the smarter of the two sides, for it is clear that piracy is going no where fast, and that digital copyright still faces an uphill battle to achieving protection.


[1] Kain, Erik. “Does Online Piracy Hurt The Entertainment Industry?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 21 Jan. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/21/does-online-piracy-hurt-the-economy-a-look-at-the-numbers/>.

[2] “Online Piracy in Numbers – Facts and Statistics [Infographic].” Web Design Dubai Dubai Web Design and Web Application Development Company Online Piracy in Numbers Facts and Statistics Infographic Comments. 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.go-gulf.com/blog/online-piracy/>.

[3] “P2P File Sharing – History of P2P.” P2P File Sharing – History of P2P. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ksc.kwansei.ac.jp/researchfair02/03/website/history.htm>.

[4] Sprigman, Chris. “How Much Do Music and Movie Piracy Really Hurt the U.S. Economy?”Freakonomics RSS. 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://freakonomics.com/2012/01/12/how-much-do-music-and-movie-piracy-really-hurt-the-u-s-economy/>.


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