The Problem of Piracy and Intellectual Property Rights

Introduction: The Problem of Piracy

No discussion on intellectual property rights (IPR) is complete without mentioning the problem of piracy around the world. Piracy is defined as the copying, stealing, reproducing, transmitting, and selling of the intellectual property (IP) of an individual without his or her express consent and written approval as well as without paying that person the royalties due to him or her. Piracy as we know pertains to buying IP products at deeply discounted prices since the product would have been pirated and hence, there are no costs for the pirate except the minimal cost of reproduction. The range of such products can include software, movies, music, books, and even pharmaceuticals and other works of art that would have been produced at great cost by the inventor.

Costs of Piracy

It is estimated that the world loses billions of dollars annually due to piracy because as mentioned earlier, all that the pirate has to do is to reproduce the IP products by stripping them of the digital protection that the manufacturers would have put in place. Indeed, the fact that the pirates are devising ingenious methods of stripping the DRM or the Digital Rights Management security layer means that despite advances in technology, the IPR holders are simply unable to combat and contain the menace of piracy.

Piracy and its Worldwide Effects

The problem of piracy has become so rampant that even industry leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, Motion Picture Studio Houses of Hollywood, and major publishers are wringing their hands at their inability to prevent piracy. The problem of piracy that was hitherto restricted to the developing world wherein Asian countries were identified as the main culprits has now spread to all corners of the world thanks to the advent of the internet and the relatively anonymous protection that the internet offers to the pirates. What this means is that the problem of piracy is not restricted to the Third World alone and now affects the entire world.

Points Raised by Supporters of Piracy

The key point to note about piracy is that its supporters claim that they are merely catering to the demand for inexpensive IP products which are simply priced way too high for the customers and the consumers who cannot afford them. They also point to the fact that in the digital age, the higher priced IP products do not have relevance since the medium is such that it enables sharing the products free and at marginal cost to the producers. Their contention is that the IP holders can price their products at a cost that would enable them to recover their investments and not too high that is driven by greedy profit making. Further, the supporters of free software and free IP products insist that the future of the internet and the digital age lies in free distribution as opposed to predatory pricing.

The Industry Response to Piracy

The response of the industry to these points is that they spend a lot of money and invest effort and resources in getting the IP products to the market since they have to take care of costs such as royalties for the creators, marketing expenses, and other expenses that need to be recovered. Moreover, they contend that if the pirates continue their ways, the incentives for the IP creators would diminish as they can neither make money nor invest the time and effort needed to create original works. Above all, the industry contends that piracy is a crime and just as throughout history, the pirates were viewed as buccaneers and exploiters, the modern day equivalents have to be handled similarly.

Recent Moves

Indeed, this has already happened in the recent years first by the United States Supreme Court shutting down the popular file sharing site, Napster, and then very recently, the US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) teaming up with the other law enforcement agencies to arrest the owners of the file sharing sites such as Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, and then shutting these sites down. Moreover, there have been concerted moves by the governments of various countries to crack down hard on pirates and those peddling illegal software, music, books, and other IP products across the world. Though these moves have resulted in some success in containing piracy, unless there is a change in mindset and a consensus between the industry and the governments on one hand and the free IP movement adherents on the other, the problem of piracy would remain with us.

Concluding Thoughts

Therefore, what this article suggests is that all the stakeholders ought to come together under the auspices of a global multilateral organization such as the United Nations and then, debate the various points that are contentious and try and arrive at some meaningful solution. In this context, it also needs to be mentioned that piracy thrives on the very human desire to get something for free and hence, unless this aspect is taken into account, industry as well as the consumers would continue to be at loggerheads. Having said that, it must also be noted that both sides must work together instead of at cross purposes as ultimately, both sides lose in the process with the industry losing revenue thereby killing innovation and creativity which affects the consumers in the end. In conclusion, it is time for the world to evolve rules that would guide the future of the digital age and not adopt an Ostrich like attitude wherein the future would catch everyone unawares.


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