What is piracy? Here's what you need to know about digital piracy, and how to avoid stolen digital content
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  • Post published:06/04/2021
  • Post last modified:06/04/2021
  • Piracy is an illegally copying of protected content that infringes on the owner’s copyright.
  • There are a range of reasons why people pirate, including a philosophical desire for all digital data to be free.
  • Content is commonly pirated through peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent as well as cloud services, illegal streaming sites, and online auctions. 
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Piracy goes by a lot of very similar names — internet piracy, online piracy, and digital piracy, to name a few — but regardless of what it’s called, piracy is the act of illegally copying protected content that infringes on the owner’s copyright.

Piracy includes making illegal copies of copyrighted music, games, software, electronic books, and movies — or streaming that content without permission.  

What to know about piracy

There’s no single motivation for piracy — in fact, digital piracy has many philosophical underpinnings and root causes. A common refrain among pirates is that it’s not really theft if you are simply making a digital copy. The original remains, so no one is harmed. That’s a shallow argument, of course, because any unauthorized copy is a potential lost sale, which harms the copyright owner. Doing that on a massive scale can cause harm to the owner and reduce the incentive to create more content. 

Other pirates have endorsed the idea that all digital content should be free, and the act of piracy is helping to free it. This philosophy ignores the reality that content isn’t free to create, and again, there’s no incentive to produce more if it’s not possible to recover one’s investment and make a profit. 

Of course, some pirates simply don’t want to pay for content. 

Regardless of motivation, theft and unauthorized copying of copyrighted content is illegal, with copyright owners protected by numerous laws. In the realm of music and sound recording, for example, United States Code Title 17 Sections 501 and 506 are federal statutes that authorize severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental, or digital transmission of copyrighted sound recordings. Other kinds of digital content have their own legal protection as well. Bypassing Digital Rights Management (DRM) software is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

How to avoid piracy

The nature of digital media means it’s not always obvious when something is stolen or pirated, so if you want to avoid breaking the law and harming creators by reducing their revenue, then you need to be diligent about not supporting piracy.

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