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What Is Internet Piracy?

By Adam Hill
Updated: May 16, 2024

Internet piracy is the unlawful reproduction and/or distribution of any copyrighted digital file that can change hands over the Internet. This can be done with music files, videos and movies, e-books, software, and other materials. Those who engage in this type of piracy can often conduct their entire operation on the Internet, including advertising and sales. It has become a worldwide crime problem, because of the relative ease with which it can be committed, even over long distances.

One of the first types of files that were pirated in a widespread way were digital music files, often known as MP3s, because of the .mp3 file extension they carry. Several very popular file sharing programs were developed beginning in the 1990s that facilitated the transfer of these types of files, both legitimate and pirated. These file sharing programs have been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, then and since, because many people have used them to obtain copyrighted video and music without paying for it.

Although the laws of different countries on downloading and distribution of digital files may vary slightly, obtaining music and movies through Internet piracy are illegal in most countries.

Piracy involving software is quite common, and very difficult to stop, as are other kinds of piracy. It is even possible for a consumer to purchase a pirated software program without realizing that it was produced illegally. It is very easy for those engaging in this practice to set up a seemingly legitimate Web page, from which to advertise and sell illegally produced software.

Internet-based commerce can allow basically anyone to conduct business with anonymity and in large volume. Unlike with physical products, there is no need to maintain an inventory of digital files, since they can be reproduced and sold quickly. It is partly because of this convenience that so many software pirates exist. If they are found out or are under suspicion, they can disappear almost instantly, leaving no contact information or any trace of their activities, except a long line of cheated and dissatisfied customers who can't get their money back.

One way that consumers can avoid unintentionally purchasing counterfeit or pirated software is to do so at a retail location or from a website they know they can trust, such as the one run by the software publisher. In these cases, the software will almost always come with a certificate of authenticity. It will also be easy to contact the publisher in the event of any problems in shipping or the operation of the software.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon998315 — On May 13, 2017

@anon323658: If you copy from you fellow man - no money involved in this case. But if you copy copyrighted intellectual property and not buying it - that means the owner will get less money. The money is involved and because of the piracy the owner gets no money. Some property is a product of many hours of hard work with a lot of people involved in it.

By anon323658 — On Mar 06, 2013

I don't get it. Man has always copied from his fellow man. Children learn by what they see their parents do. They are copying their mom and dad's behavior. They learn to talk by copying. Do we consider this to be theft? No, of course not!

A music teacher will have his students listen and learn from other musicians, play from popular songs and read other musicians music. Their own professional music will reflect someone else's for sure. And if it can be proved, is this theft? It shouldn't be and it never was until now, I guess.

Where will this ridiculous attitude lead us? No one will be permitted to do anything that remotely resembles anything that has already been done. It would be the end of creativity -- no more music, art, etc. How boring our lives will become. What can be done about this? It looks ominous.

By anon272575 — On Jun 02, 2012

I am a retired magazine editor. I always kept a sharp lookout for those pushing an agenda, hidden or otherwise, who constantly attempted to take the semantic high ground by using loaded terms. For example, calling all poor people "the disadvantaged." Granted that many of the poor are indeed poor through no fault of their own. But some portion of the poor are poor simply because they are lazy.

Now let's first picture men like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Captain Henry Morgan, those ex-fishermen of Somalia now engaged in holding numerous large ships hostage at gunpoint, Captain jack Sparrow and Long John Silver. Pirates to a man, correct? So "piracy" isn't really a violent, serious, large-scale felony perpetrated by vicious, organized gangs? Then why does the press allow copyright assignees (who, by and large, did not actually create the intellectual property for which they have obtained the intellectual property rights -- by hook, crook, or really sharp business practices) wildly inflate the seriousness of non-commercial copyright violations by calling such petty crimes "piracy" without comment? Aren't non-commercial copyright violations really a form of misdemeanor shoplifting? Who benefits?

What is really going on is that copyright assignees represented by industry pressure groups like the RIAA and MPAA bamboozle folks like you into publicizing a few showy raids such as the recent levying of a fine of around $27,000 per tune on a hapless graduate student who had downloaded 30 "free" MP3s. First of all, what would have happened to him if he had been caught leaving K-Mart with two CDs stuffed down his pants? But more importantly, these showy raids permit the DRM crowd's legal "paper mills" to send out blizzards the threatening letters to e-suspected (not adjudicated) petty thieves which reportedly net the DRM crowd around $2,000 per letter. Not a bad return on the investment of first-class postage, eh?

So I propose that we start a trend to inject a modicum of reality into coverage of this issue by calling non-commercial copyright violations "e-shoplifting" in any body copy written by writers and editors and also putting any usage of the term "piracy" in quotes from the DRM crowd in quotation marks.

By anon233076 — On Dec 04, 2011

Oh, come on. This is a joke. Piracy in movies and mp3s has existed since the VHS era. Whatever governments will do. Pirates (it's a joke to call them that, anyway) will find a way to transfer files to each other. Multimillion companies should not stop the freedom of the internet just because they can't find a way to get more money for crappy movies and songs.

By anon144667 — On Jan 20, 2011

We need to stop killings and suffering due to drug, guns, and human trafficking.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 20, 2010

I find it amazing in this day and age that we have taken a word such as piracy and it has involved so much to use to mean stealing gold chest and burying them on tropical islands can now meaning stealing bits of data off of the Internet.

This incredible transformation of what piracy is is simply mind-boggling. Who would've thought that Peg leg and hook-wristed pirates would turn into geeks and dweebs behind keyboards with zits and pale skin.

It makes me wonder what kind of goods in the future or even services an individual artwork will be pirated. What technologies such as the Internet will truly change piracy and create a new way for thieves to take things that do not belong to them. Priciest software is a major concern because it truly affects the price of software for the rest of us and we need to consider this when we actually do Internet pirating.

By MrPolitic99 — On Oct 20, 2010

@Burlap, you thoughts on what piracy means to the society we live in and the market economy that we support is very disturbing. Only when everyone accept the fact that we need to pay for the content that we consume will truly be able to value our goods and services in the media industry for what they are truly worth.

please realize that there are artists out there that make money off of every single cell of their song, software, or picture. Because of this you truly need to respect what they put into the value of their art and how they are capable of bringing such unique beauty into this world for you to enjoy. Please pay for your artwork as musicians pay with their heart.

By Burlap — On Oct 20, 2010

I don't see what the big deal about Internet piracy is. When retailers charge so much for very oversold content, I don't have a problem with downloading the occasional song or two. Why realized some people this may be a very bad thing and even theft, I think I pay enough to the band that I love for the albums that I want to get. This selfish thinking is justified in part because they are selfish with the amount of money they charge of the profits that they feel they must achieve was selling this overvalued content.

Why don't condone it and I want to stop, Internet piracy is a reality and just like real-life pirates off the coast of Africa, you will never be able to rid the world of Internet piracy completely. As long as their music fans there will be music piracy.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 20, 2010

Because Internet piracy is so dangerous to the software market, I fully support people who try to stop Internet pirates. Internet service providers are probably the best way for Internet piracy to be stopped.

Because Internet service providers are capable of filtering and looking through the data that is being transferred over their networks, they are the absolute bottleneck security checkpoint for Internet piracy.

This one-stop filter location can be used for piracy experts to identify major partners and where they are placing their sensitive and often illegal software music and media content.

Only a collaborative effort with piracy law experts, Internet service providers, and the actual into consumer will we be able to fully rid the world of Internet piracy and its dangers to the market economy.

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