Like Other Crimes, Piracy Doesn’t Pay
Piracy of intellectual property that’s protected by copyright law is a serious crime. Not only does it rob the makers of recordings, videos, movies, games, and other creative works of the money they are entitled to, but it costs tens of thousands of people their jobs each year. It also deprives governments at all levels of tax revenue. Piracy itself is a crime, and it causes an increase in other types of crime. Gangs and organized crime groups have both been linked to the piracy of creative work.
Pirated materials are everywhere. All you have to do is walk down a city street to see all the CDs and DVDs for sale by street vendors. The vendors’ stalls lend color and atmosphere to our city streets, but did you know that some are fronts for criminals that are reaping huge profits from the high markup on goods they have counterfeited? These pirated materials are also available in stores and on the Web.
Piracy also takes place in dorm rooms, bedrooms, and recreation rooms across America, where anyone can illegally download tunes or movies. All that’s needed is a computer and access to the Internet. Most don’t realize that when they download a copyrighted tune, movie, game, or book without permission from the owner or seller and don’t pay for it that they’re breaking the law. But they are. Making unauthorized copies of these creative works is against the law, and breaking it may subject the person who does it to civil and criminal liability—especially if they distribute the stolen product to others. The penalties for first-time offenders include jail time of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000.
The individuals and industries that produce the original goods that are subsequently pirated are important to the U.S. economy. The entertainment industry in the United States employs 2.9 million people, or 2.1 percent of all U.S. jobs. The 668,000 U.S. businesses that are involved in the creation or distribution of creative works represent more than 4 percent of all businesses. The U.S. movie and television industries alone produce a trade surplus of more than $13 billion each year. But each year, more than 300,000 people that depend on copyrighted industries lose their jobs as a direct result of piracy. This includes not just the authors of creative works, but all those who derive the income from producing and distributing their work—movie theater staff, video store operators, movie extras, sound technicians, set decorators, even the caterers who supply the set or studio and the drivers that transport the crews.
The most familiar type of piracy is the illegal copying and distribution of music, movies, and games from the Internet. While downloading these products—if you pay for them or have permission—isn’t a crime, it is a crime if they are sent to others or widely distributed. Once a tune or movie is posted on the Internet, it lives forever—and the artist behind the product is forever deprived of income.
Piracy of movies is also a serious problem. Many are made by “camcording” something in a movie theater. A pirate will take video equipment into a theatre, attach it to an armrest for stability, and record what’s on the screen. The high-quality counterfeits are then sold illegally—at huge markups. Forty-one states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico all have laws against the use of a recording device in a theater. And federal laws against copyright violation and intellectual property theft also apply.
Most people don’t know that they’re doing something illegal when they download a tune or buy an authorized product. They don’t realize that they’re costing people their jobs or contributing to crime. With the ease and speed of modern technology, it’s easy to make a mistake.
It’s easy to stay on the straight and narrow.
- When you buy a tune on the Internet and download it, make sure you don’t send a copy to a friend or someone who might sell it to others.
- If you get a tune from someone, don’t re-send it to others.
- Don’t make copies of DVDs and give them out to your friends and relatives—even as gifts.
- Don’t instant message a tune.
- Don’t download products from file-sharing services if you’re not entitled to them.
- Don’t pay a fee to join a file-sharing service that you know isn’t authorized to provide the goods it’s distributing. They may allow you to download all the tunes or movies you want, but it’s against the law.
- Don’t burn CDs or DVDs.
- If shopping online, beware of sites that aren’t familiar to you—and that are selling expensive products at prices that are way too good.
- Examine the wrappings of the tunes and other products you buy offline and make sure they look “original” and are of the usual quality for the product.
- Look for the brand insignia of the manufacturer on the product and make sure it looks they way it’s supposed to.
- Don’t buy CDs or DVDs from street vendors. Their products are often counterfeited.
- Ask street vendors or discount stores that sell CDs and DVDs at bargain prices where they got the products and how they can sell them for such steeply discounted prices.
- If your city or state has a sales tax, be suspicious when you buy something and no tax is collected.
- Don’t use an illicit cable decoder or satellite descrambler to watch movies and programs you haven’t paid for. Don’t buy the decoder or descrambler to begin with.
- Don’t record a live public performance when you don’t have permission. Most public performances prohibit the use of video equipment, cameras, and other recording devices. You may be depriving the artist and those who depend on the artist from income.
- Remember that if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. The product offered at a bargain price is probably illegal.