Though anti-piracy laws have long existed with regard to the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted works, this issue has been newly raised and increased in seriousness by the proliferation of digitally driven methods for storing and transmitting information. Internet piracy has been received by the various fields associated with arts and entertainment as one of the most serious issues they face in the digital era and has been met with punitive measures both from industry groups and Government overseers. The music and television and film industries are particularly impacted by this practice.
Many of the laws relating to personal reproduction of digital media relates to the imperative of preventing instances of internet piracy. Though criminal organizations are sometimes involved in internet piracy, particularly in cases which involve “leaks” of media works before they can be made legally available by the copyright owners, private individuals not interested in financial gain are also likely to commit acts of internet piracy.
Historically, United States copyright-related piracy laws criminalized illegal reproduction for the purpose of financial gain. The 1976 No Electronic Theft Act, passed by Congress to address the early development of digital technology, removed the latter stipulation to allow piracy laws to cover the unauthorized private or non-commercial copying of items, on the grounds that while such acts did not bring monetary compensation to the culprit, they did negatively affect the copyright owner’s ability to derive due financial compensation to be provided through ownership.
Piracy laws refer to the basic act of misappropriation, as variously defined, of another individual’s intellectual property, but this act may be accomplished through different techniques of varying sophistication. The capability for internet piracy of copyrighted works was pioneered by the Napster peer-to-peer service, which allowed users to exchange files with each other without incurring any financial loss.
Legal action brought by the Recording Industry Association of America and some of its record label members against the founders of Napster eventually forced the shutdown of the service, but numerous other popular services for internet piracy grew up in the time afterward. The decentralized model of the peer-to-peer service, by which the operator “merely” provides the capability for exchange of files without vocally endorsing any such actions, has made such services difficult targets for internet piracy laws.
After discovering that the peer-to-peer sharing services which came after Napster were more difficult to completely shut down, the RIAA shifted to a new policy of selectively targeting individual violators of piracy laws detected using these services. This tactic, which has received much criticism and backlash, has been regarded as an unnecessarily and ineffectively heavy-handed method of enforcement.
Sources for internet piracy that may be more easily dealt with are individual websites illegally offering file downloads themselves, by which measures the operators are more directly liable and can be more swiftly located by the enforcers of piracy laws. A more sophisticated and less common means for circumventing internet piracy laws is to directly “hack” into another computer’s files.