What is Copyright Piracy?

G. Wiesen

Copyright piracy is the infringement of a copyright by someone, typically to achieve financial gain. Though the term is typically reserved for those who profit from such infringement, the general usage of “piracy” has recently been extended to those who infringe upon a copyright without financial gain. This is not a form of theft, but is a separate type of criminal action that can lead to civil lawsuit against the violator by the legal owner of a copyright. Copyright piracy often occurs with digital media such as video and audio recordings, E-books, and video games.

Making unauthorized copies of a computer game is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of a computer game is a form of copyright piracy.

A copyright is a form of ownership protection extended to the creator of a work of art or artistic creation. This is established the moment someone creates the artwork, regardless of whether the copyright is registered with a government or private agency. Copyright piracy is another term for copyright infringement in which copyrighted materials are copied or sold without permission of the owner of the copyright. This copyright piracy can take a number of different forms, and historically has been done to make financial gains off of a property owned by someone else.

Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of movies for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

In modern usage, copyright piracy can refer to just about any type of copyright infringement in which materials owned by someone are disseminated by someone else without permission. This can include file sharing over the Internet through a number of different methods and services that allow Internet users to share digital media. While anyone can legally share files that he or she owns the copyright on, sharing of media that is not owned by the sharer is often illegal and considered copyright piracy.

Many forms of copyright piracy involve financial gain on behalf of the person using the materials that he or she does not own. This can include selling “pirated” copies of music, books, movies, or video games in person or through the Internet. These copies are typically made inexpensively and royalties are not paid to the copyright owner based on the sales.

One of the major issues regarding copyright piracy is the loss of profits by the owner of the copyright and others involved. Pirated copies of movies sold make money for the person or company creating the copies and typically do not pass on any profits to the studio that produced the film or the actors and crew members involved with the production. Such studios and artists are concerned that people who can acquire a movie or book for less money or free of charge will do so, rather than purchase a legal copy and support those who made the product.

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Discussion Comments


@rugbygirl - And that's if the item in question is even out on DVD in the other country. Some television programs from other countries, for instance, might really be available only through online piracy. I'm not saying it's right, but I wonder how many people resort to illegal downloads when they would have been perfectly willing to pay a reasonable price to obtain something legitimately - but no one was selling.

I suspect that the market will evolve to allow people to respect intellectual property rights while still having access to what they want to watch. I know a lot of people who used to download music illegally when that was the only way to get individual MP3s, but who now pay for them from iTunes or Amazon.com because it's so easy and cheap now. What they want is now readily available from a legitimate source, so there is less impetus to steal.


An interesting angle in the anti piracy movement is that sometimes people are pirating works that the publishers (often not the copyright owners, who do not make these decisions) have not chosen to make commercially available in a particular place.

For instance, DVDs and DVD players are encoded for particular regions, and a US-made player will not play a DVD that was designed for the Japanese market. So an otherwise law-abiding citizen might find him- or herself limited to two options: buy a whole second DVD player just to watch a few things (with all the hassles involved in importing, hooking up, and storing it) at great expense, or just download the item illegally.

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