Music, Video and Software Piracy: Do Offenders See Them as Criminal Activities?

Music, Video and Software Piracy: Do Offenders See Them as Criminal Activities?

Gráinne Kirwan (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland) and Andrew Power (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-350-8.ch010

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There have been several high profile cases of online file sharing websites in recent years.

Yar (2007) describes the case of a file-sharing service called Napster. When using this service, individuals registered online and downloaded the Napster software, which would then scan the user’s computer for any digital music files (such as MP3 files). The software then sent a list of the music files on the computer to the Napster server. If another user then searched for a specific song, Napster would inspect its members’ computers for copies of it, while also checking which of these computers were currently online. Napster then allowed the searcher to ask the file owner for permission to download a copy of the file for themselves. Eventually approximately seventy million individuals were using the system. In late 1999 the US recording industry took Napster to court, suggesting that the file sharing website had facilitated illegal downloading of copyrighted material. Napster eventually paid $36 million to the recording industry (Yar, 2007, p. 98).

Jewkes (2010) describes the case of ‘The Pirate Bay’ (p. 534). This Sweden-based website allowed people to post music, films and software, and directed users to media files available elsewhere on the Internet. ‘The Pirate Bay’ did not store the content or index itself, and so circumvented anti-piracy laws. Nevertheless, in 2009, the four owners of ‘The Pirate Bay’ were found guilty of breaking copyright law, were fined and were sentenced to a year in prison each.

In October 2010, a New York district court issued an injunction which forced ‘LimeWire’, a large file-sharing website, to disable some of its functions, including searching, downloading, uploading and file-trading (BBC News, 2010a).

Definitions and Key Terms

There are a large number of terms which are used in conjunction with the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. Bryant (2008) distinguishes between ‘illegal filesharing’ and ‘commercial music piracy’. The former involves the transmission of files, while the latter involves the use of physical materials such as CDs and DVDs. However, many researchers use the term ‘piracy’ to refer to illegal filesharing as well. For example, Hill (2007) defines digital piracy as “the purchase of counterfeit products at a discount to the price of the copyrighted product, and illegal file sharing of copyright material over peer-to-peer computer networks” (p. 9).

Yar (2006) indicates that it has proven to be difficult to settle upon a precise and agreed definition of ‘piracy’, but that legal and economic uses of the term are based in Intellectual Property (IP) law and protection (p. 65). Stephens (2008) describes Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as “encompassing the privileges accorded to the creators and owners of creative work (intellectual property, or IP) including inventions, designs, software, music, films, and written works” (p. 121). Stephens indicates that copyright does not require a registration process, and in most cases the copyrighted work can only be reproduced and used with the copyright holder’s permission. If it is otherwise used, the holder has a legal right to stop the copyright breach and to seek compensation.

There are complications in defining the legality of copyright infringement. Stephens (2008) indicates that some consumers argue for ‘fair use’ of the content, suggesting that they should be entitled to make copies of the content for personal use. For example, a person may buy a music CD. They may then wish to make a copy of the CD to leave in their car. They may also want to copy the CD to mp3 format so that they can listen to it on their digital media player, but they may later buy an alternative portable music player that does not read mp3 files, and so they need to copy it to a different format. They may decide that they would like to use one of the tracks as their personal ringtone on their cellphone, which may require them to change the format of the file again, hence creating another version. It is possible that the consumer may have to purchase several copies of the song in order to achieve these goals legally.

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