Today, the Internet is one of the most common ways in which people get the information they need. However, the globalized nature of this communication system has made it very difficult to enforce the piracy laws intended to give content creators protection from those who wish to unfairly profit from their work. Anti piracy software, piracy reporting systems, and campaigns to educate the public about intellectual property laws have turned into the best defense available against this crime.
Essentially, piracy is copyright infringement. The term is most often applied to electronic or audio visual/media. The most common examples of piracy online include sites that allow for the illegal downloading of music, movies, and video games. Software piracy is a common problem as well, especially for expensive programs such as Microsoft® Office or Adobe® Photoshop®.
In the United States, piracy laws allow for up to five years in prison and $250,000 US Dollars (USD) in fines. You can also face civil penalties that can run into thousands of dollars, even if you did not charge for the copies. Simply by sharing copyrighted content with others, you prevented the rightful owner from profiting from the sale of his/her intellectual property.
Unfortunately, enforcing piracy laws is very difficult. The Internet is simply too large for it to be possible to police the content of every site. Additionally, each country has slightly different piracy laws. To properly enforce copyright protections, you'd need to know what country the owner of the Web site distributing the material was from as well as the location of the person illegally downloading the content. Finding this information, tracking down all the parties involved, and waiting for the results of a lawsuit is typically too expensive and time consuming to be practical.
Nevertheless, there are still cases in which piracy laws have been successful in stopping copyright infringement. Napster® software, created by a teenage entrepreneur named Shawn Fanning, came under fire for allowing users to share the contents of their hard drives and giving millions of people access to an entire library of copyrighted songs free of charge. The company was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), rapper Dr. Dre, and the hard rock band Metallica. The lawsuits forced the company into bankruptcy, although it later re-emerged as a resource for legitimate MP3 downloads. Hundreds of individual users of Napster® who allegedly shared 1,000 songs or more were also sued by the RIAA, although many of these cases were either dropped or settled for lesser amounts due to the intense negative publicity.