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Piracy Dilemma: Is Downloading Pirated Content Stealing?

Digital TV Research suggests that the amount of revenue lost to piracy has increased from $6.7 billion (2010) to nearly $31.8 billion (2018), while the TV Piracy Forecast’s report estimates that the figure will reach US$52 billion by the end of 2022.

Millions of people around the world illegally download and stream digital content. This, in legal terms, is called piracy, or violation of intellectual property rights. Despite the fact that piracy is illegal, many argue it is not immoral. For example, fundamentalist libertarians believe that all ideas and artistic creations should be held in the public domain, freely accessible to all. They argue that intellectual property restricts free circulation of ideas and expressions that the society could benefit from.

Others think that illegal downloading is the equivalent of stealing, and not only it imposes significant legal costs to the creators, but also discourages them from continuing their work. A number of countries have aggressive policies in place to prevent online piracy. Australia, for example, often shows this message before movies:

“You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag, you wouldn’t steal a television, you wouldn’t steal a movie. Downloading pirated films is stealing.”

Those in the centre believe that there is still a difference between downloading illegal content and stealing someone’s coat. Due to the virtual nature of it piracy, a lot of people are not even aware that they are committing an illegal act by downloading a film they want to watch. After all, we are told so much about the free nature of the internet. The key difference between piracy and actual stealing is that when you download the content, you do not exclude the owner or anyone else from using it, while in case of stealing a tangible item, you claim it entirely for yourself and everyone else, including the rightful owner is excluded from enjoying it.

Some even suggest that illegal file sharing might in fact be beneficial for the owners. It is true that by downloading the film illegally, you avoid paying the fee to the owner, but the more accessible the product becomes by massive sharing, the more people will want to consume it, which increases its popularity.

In reality, radical approaches to the issue of privacy often lack common sense, and a balance must be struck between protecting intellectual property and imposing sanctions similar to those imposed on common thieves. Such sanctions, on the other hand, need to differentiate between different types of intellectual property, the implications of illegal sharing and the reasonable ways of regulating it. 

Leave a comment and tell us where you stand on issues related to online privacy.