Digital Piracy Issues and Protecting Intellectual Property

Understanding the Damage Piracy Does to Creative Livelihoods and the Economy

Pirate symbol on keyboard
Book piracy hurts authors and publishers. Sitade / Getty Images

Piracy is the for-profit theft of creative works — the intellectual property protected by copyright laws. While piracy has been around for as long as there has been property (Dickens complained of pirated versions of his books in America), the digital age has made creative work — like books — more vulnerable and the distribution of pirated work much easier.

Creative Work Adds Tremendously to the Economy

According to CreativeFuture.org, a coalition of media companies and related organizations (and which provided the background for this article), the creation of books, music, film, TV, software, newspapers, radio and video games add over $1.1 trillion dollars and over 5.5 million jobs to the economy of the United States — nearly three-quarters of a million of those jobs in the publishing industry.

Piracy is an illegal, criminal enterprise that puts livelihoods at risk

Copyright law protects the creators of intellectual property and those to whom they assign rights in exchange for monies (for publishing that would be authors and the publishers with whom they've signed a book contract).  The piracy of that intellectual property is in violation of those laws and as such is criminal — and digital pirates are large-scale for-profit entities.

An estimated $80 - $100 million dollars worth of U.S. book publishing revenue is lost to online theft each year. This for-profit theft of creative works jeopardizes the rights of creative individuals, like authors, filmmakers, video game designers. Further, it puts at risk all the jobs created by the creative work.

Anyone who makes their living making books — from the authors to in-house publishing staffs to booksellers of all types — or works in any other creative endeavor, is at risk of losing part — or all — of their livelihood to piracy.

Surprising Accomplices to Piracy

Piracy sites account for 24% of global internet traffic and a number of "wholesome" companies are involved:

Major Brandsin a sampling of 600 online piracy sites made over the course of a year, it was found that major brands contributed a significant portion of over $225 million in advertising funds to the pirates.

Credit Card Companies Cyberlockers are cloud storage / online hosting services that provide remote, globally accessible data storage. Known for their invisibility to surveillance and search crawlers, they are used by online pirates to distribute stolen creative works. According to CreativeFuture.org, the top 30 cyberlockers made nearly $100 million from ads and subscription payments facilitated by major credit card companies.

What Authors, Illustrators, and Other Creative and Publishing Pros Can Do

It's important to help bring greater awareness to the issues of digital piracy:

Join the conversation. Speak up about the value of all creative work – and speak out against the harm piracy causes to creative livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

Educate young people. In an interview, Tim Knowlton, CEO of Curtis Brown Ltd literary agency said, "Every parent should have an anti-piracy discussion with their kids, who grew up expecting their music and books and content to be free. So many kids aspire to create fields — what they don't understand is that piracy of intellectual property threatens the livelihoods of anyone making music, film, art and, of course, books."

Advocate for policies and solutions that will stop the flow of money to piracy sites. Greater awareness, new laws, and law enforcement will help take the profit out of piracy.

According to CreativeFuture.org, "This will require increased cooperation from all responsible players that make up the Internet ecosystem, including: advertisers, advertising agencies, online ad networks, credit card companies, internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, domain registrars, and universities." Some inroads that have been made:

  • After 6 years in operation, the site Megaupload was shut down by law enforcement. A study found that legitimate online sales of major films increased up to 10% over the next four months.
  • In tandem with the film industry, the five major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to create the Copyright Alert System—a voluntary, cooperative effort to inform users when they download pirated material.
  • The Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau are developing enhanced best practices to prevent the flow of advertising revenue to pirate sites.
  • In an open letter to the 114th Congress, the 60 Plus Association (a group of politically conservative organizations), outlined their Intellectual Property Guidelines, which stated the fact that intellectual property rights are grounded in the Constitution and they:
  1. Are A Fundamental Property Right Deserving the Same Respect as Physical Property
  2. Promote Free Speech and Expression
  3. Are Vital to Economic Competitiveness
  4. Must Be Protected Internationally Through Effective IP Provisions in Trade Agreements
  5. Are Integral to Consumer Protection and National Security
  6. Must Be Respected and Protected on the Internet
  7. Benefit from Voluntary Initiatives that Address Intellectual Property Theft

For more fact on digital piracy and statistics about the film and television industry, visit CreativeFuture.org.