Each society throughout history has, and will be introduced to new ideas, inventions, and movements that benefit their communities. Yet, with those inventions will come ways for people to exploit them, and use them to gain an advantage. Recently, with the dawn of the Information Age of the early 2000’s, the fairly-new Internet has connected the world in ways previously incomprehensible. With the Internet, people can send digital goods such as music, movies, and games to each other without any physical meeting or materialization. While beneficial to the economy and markets, those who sell online also risk digital pirates making copies of their goods, and distributing them for free to the world, or even reselling them. Piracy has become a growing issue in the new age, and governments across the world are beginning to take action against it. Even though government intervention would control piracy much better, and could possibly be done not to interfere with innocent customers, it could lead to invasions of privacy as people will always find ways to download copyrighted files undetected, and trying to stop infringements will only hurt internet providers and customers, who have the right to privacy, shown in the Fourth Amendment (Bridegam 11)
Government intervention is certainly possible, and has been done in correlation with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. An anti-piracy firm named CEGTEK pushed for the “Notice-and-Notice Law” to be passed, which allows copyright companies to send letters to users, recognizing that someone on the infringed network has downloaded copyrighted software. It also tells that if the user ignores the infringement, legal action may be taken. While it does not actually search and seize files on users computers, forcing deletion, it recognizes copyrighted software being transferred to the network, and takes nonlegal action which may eventually be brought to court, however. After the Law was passed, piracy rates dropped up to 61% one year (Brownell 1), due to the letters being sent with notices of infringement. It had an impact on slowing down the growth of piracy, but governments have to find other ways to end digital crime.
Piracy is still fairly new to the big picture, and old laws need to be modernized in order to stop it. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unwarranted and unreasonable search and seizure without a probable cause. While the Amendment protects personal property, including computers, an officer can still access the content and files stored on the machine. David Cole at Georgetown University says “”When I send an email, I’ve shared it with the Internet provider.” (Zwerdling 1) All communications with servers and websites are stored somewhere on the site’s history, leaving a digital footprint behind. Law enforcement can access these records as they can be made available upon calling, because if a warrant is denied to search a user’s computer, another one can be requested to search the server or service provider involved in the alleged crime to find out if copyright infringement did occur. The Amendment has not aged well, and with the Information Age accelerating, the old laws need to be updated in order to keep up with new technology. The Fourth Amendment tells little about digital search and seizure, yet it still is unconstitutional for unreasonable search of property.
Internet service providers (ISPs) monitor everything a user does, downloads, and uploads on the internet, and while it may differ from each company, most keep records for all types of purposes, include hardware and software maintenance, as well as to catch pirates. These companies assign IP addresses to every computer in order to connect the PC to websites and servers, but the address can also be used to trace a user across the network. This is how pirates can be quickly caught. Some ISPs work with anti-piracy and copyright protection companies, such as Tecksavvy Solutions in Canada, work to catch infringements and stop it on their networks. The collaboration between the companies comes down to the anti-piracy firms monitoring P2P (peer-to-peer) connections scanning for copyrighted content. If a file is found to be copyrighted, the IP address is logged and forwarded to the ISP of the user. While it may seem like a simple job, the ISP does not legally have to disclose the name and location of the alleged pirate. (Robinson 1) Obviously, the ISP could if they wish to, but most companies see so many infringements that taking actual legal action towards the cases would cause more problems than needed. The amount of legal fees, time spent, and reputation on the line is simply too much for most companies to risk.
Ways to stop piracy have doubled over the years, and each year introduces more invasive methods of cracking down. (Katyal 1) Years of lobbying and debates have introduced many new acts and bills passed in order to prevent and cease piracy. However, they have been passed in ways so as not to affect the openness and opportunity of the internet, yet still be able to enforce their rules. The Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP Acts are in the process of being debated by Congress, and opposed by pirates. SOPA intends to defund and cut off access to “rogue” sites that promote piracy but are established internationally, most notably The Pirate Bay, in Sweden. The two acts rival each other in debate, but have the same end goal – to end foreign piracy in the United States. The bills have not been passed, but have the support of the RIAA, MPAA, and NMPA, all music and media production companies. (ABC-CLIO 1) Arguments followed the consideration of the bills, with the defense that they would not enforce anything, and would only hurt the internet’s freedom. Cutting off access to websites is a prohibition of the openness of the internet, as it is not truly free with these restrictions.
The United States is surprisingly not one of the countries with the most piracy, but the ones that too have taken action against it. David Kassler, CEO of EMI Group, a British music company, says “You can have a number-one album in Spain with 3,000 sales”, referencing the number of pirates and downloaders. (Economist 1) Germany has kept their piracy laws simple, with a fine system for each crime. South Korea faced rampant piracy as well, but took action against it, introducing a three-point warning system for their users suspected of copyright infringement. If the user ignores these warnings and does not cease their use, their connection will be cut off and disconnected. Now, some companies in the U.S. have taken up a warning system. Copyright firms are able to collect the IP of a pirate, and can send a notice to that IP without needing to take legal action. Some unknowing pirates are frightened off by the sight of the official notice, and cease immediately. Using a detection and warning system has worked in Korea, leading to a 10% increase of music sales in 2009, but whether it will work in the U.S. is yet to be seen. Not all the laws will work, as Mayseey Leong of the IFPI says “it wasn’t as though the law came into effect and all illegal activity stopped.” Laws will not be enough to stop piracy, but it can make a difference in slowing down the increase of infringement rates. Piracy has a much larger effect on people besides their internet being disconnected. Being convicted of piracy could result in graduation denial, loss of job, scholarship, or even citizenship for international pirates.
Studies by Stuart Green from the International Herald Tribute shows that pirates and users of the internet have drawn a solid line between digital piracy and physical theft. (Green 1)
Pirates claim nothing is being stolen, only copied and mostly used for personal use. However, 1962 introduced the Moral Penal Code, which defines property as anything valued. The vague definition has led to an argument over theft law even 50 years later, bringing up the discussion of whether or not digital goods count as valued, as they technically do not exist – only as bits and numbers on a server, not physically. Therefore, a dilemma has been created where users must decide whether or not they believe piracy is actually stealing. It is known that digital distribution has done wonders for the music business, increasing revenue and popularity, but it opens up a whole world of debate about digital sharing of copyrighted goods. Because nobody is hurt at the moment of download, users claim piracy is not stealing because they are simply making a copy of the file, nobody is killed or robbed at gunpoint, as all the user has to do is click “download”.
In the long run, production companies and music artists do take a large financial hit from a lack of sales, if a certain song or album of theirs is being sent across the internet illegally.
One reporter, James Lardner, claims “the more they lock things up, the more users rebel.” (Lardner 1) Regardless of how companies and Congress may try to make their files inaccessible except legally, pirates and hackers will always find ways to get what they want, even if they face troubles such as takedowns of their websites. The problem companies face is that file sharing services are much smarter, and shutting down physically in one place will not affect piracy as much. One popular website, KickAss Torrents (KAT), was taken down after the founder was arrested. Yet, it did not do much against piracy, because of the way it works. Copyrighted content is shared via P2P networks, meaning it goes straight from computers that “seed” the file, and make it available for download directly from their computer, with no website involved. The site was simply a catalog for the .torrent files which contain the information that allow users to connect to other users to download the file. Pirates have taken measures against website takedown, and entire server backups were quickly uploaded to a different domain name to ensure the site stayed up. KAT was down almost momentarily, and goes to show how a server level takedown could not do much damage against stopping piracy. (Mathur 1) Not only is piracy rampant digitally, but burned CDs and physical copies of copyrighted files are shared just for that reason. Physical copies are much harder to trace, despite them not leaving footprints, and can be publicly viewed and broadcasted without the user even knowing it is a pirated version.
Pirates argue that the internet is a source of information and sharing, and because companies and users make their files publicly available, one way or another, they are free for the taking due to a lack of security against them. (Peloso 136) Not just one force is at fault in the grand view of piracy, but pirates blame the music industry saying it “has consistently failed to adapt to changes in technology.” (Wray 1) If a company has not taken any measures to protect its media, then it can be at fault for users copying it illegally. Companies can also be at fault for not making their media available in all countries for all people. International users must pirate content because some files are regionally locked, and only available in America (Wortham 1). The only way for some users to access the media is to download it from a P2P network, which may not put them completely at fault, as the companies have yet to make their media available worldwide. One anonymous user says “It is available, just not legally.” Having region-locked data also may serve as a cause for the high piracy rates in South Korea and Spain, being outside of the U.S.
The internet is a vast network, with billions of packets of data sent on the daily. Being able to monitor and scan every single connection would take an amount of power machine and man do not have yet in the Information Age. Not even the United States could crack down on every case of copyright infringement, even in their own country. One man, who wishes to remain unknown, claims “the film and television industry’s efforts to stopâ€¦ distribution â€¦ is like building a dam in the middle of a vast ocean.” Along with their failure to keep up with modern times, copyright firms can only do so much in terms of catching pirates, as most use proxies, which change their IP addresses to somewhere far from their computer, to trick websites into thinking they are connecting from somewhere else, hiding themselves and their location. Therefore, it is presently impossible to catch every pirate, and authorities must accept the internet’s freedom, and how it can never be fully controlled by anyone due to the massive size of it. No matter how much effort is put into stopping piracy, someone somewhere will always find a way to bypass restrictions and free the copyrighted content for the rest of the world. Once the content is out in the internet, it can never be fully erased, as it has been saved on hundreds, or even thousands of computers by the time the copyright firm has information the file has been taken. (Sampat 1) This is why website takedowns would not work, copies of the file have been made and can be reuploaded and hosted at any time. Pirates have to work together to function, but taking them down one-by-one has not worked so far. More attempts will be made to end piracy for sure, but that may spark more controversy, however, because any more intervention by the government and firms would only end up in violations of privacy and rights.
Piracy is still fairly new, and is growing every day, despite rigorous attempts to stop it, while still remain constitutional. The main question ISPs and copyright companies face is “how can the openness of the internet be preserved while having all illegal acts filtered out?”. The protection of innocent customers is on the mind of every company, and selecting the few out of the bunch who commit acts of piracy is not an easy task. While they do have access to the file transfer history between users, they cannot legally intervene without a warrant, shown in the Fourth Amendment, and even if they are issued one, they cannot completely prove the user was the one who downloaded the material. Perhaps the pirate used a public Wi-Fi access point to copy a file off KAT, and then left the building. The owner of the Wi-Fi would receive a notice to cease piracy, even though he had committed no such act, his customers did. Piracy is a tricky subject, and neither side is technically correct. Pirates can claim anything accessible can be taken, and will be because of the vast size of the internet, but companies do have a legal copyright on some media materials, and taking them is a criminal act. It is up to the governments of countries facing piracy to make a decision based on the current situation, and take action to resolve piracy. Pirates must unite to keep themselves anonymous against companies out to crack down on infringement. Congress must protect the pirate’s rights, but production companies must protect their copyrights.
“A Rare Victory Against Piracy.” Economist (London, England) Vol.395, No.8679, Apr, 2010,
pp. 68, SIRS Issues Researcher.
Bridegam, Martha Ann. Search and Seizure. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. Print
Brownell, Claire. “Pirates of the Internet.” National Post, 13 Feb, 2016, pp. FP.5, SIRS Issues
Green, Stuart P. “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing.” International Herald Tribune, 30 Mar, 2012, pp.
6, SIRS Issues Researcher.
K, Katyal Sonia. Yale Journal of Law and Technology. N.p.: Yale Law School, 2005. Print.
Lardner, James. “The Empire Strikes Back.” U.S.News & World Report, Sep, 2000, pp. 54-56,
SIRS Issues Researcher.
Mathur, Swapnil. “KickAss Torrents is Dead for Sure, but Online Piracy Will Continue.”
Financial Express, 23 Jul, 2016, SIRS Issues Researcher.
“Obama Administration Responds to we the People Petitions on SOPA..” WHITE HOUSE
PRESS RELEASE, 14 Jan, 2012, SIRS Government Reporter.
Peloso, Jennifer. Intellectual Property. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2003. Print.
Robinson, Michael. “Student Downloaders Beware.” Maclean’s, Nov, 2016, SIRS Issues