Piracy of intellectual property is when someone copies a work or exploits it without having permission from the owner. The most common examples of intellectual property infringement are piracy and counterfeiting. Piracy, specifically, refers to the unauthorized use, copying, distribution, or reproduction of protected materials covered by intellectual property rights.

The History of Piracy

The concept of piracy first appeared in Greek literature as the word “peirato” around the year 140 B.C. The writer applied the term to economic and political communities along the Mediterranean seashore, claiming they had religious rights and handed-down traditions that existed long before then. Other communities, however, saw peirato communities as outlaws.

Given its negative connotation, the term's definition spread to include a broader meaning of perceived transgressions. The word found its way into the English language as “piracy,” and evolved as complaints arose regarding American theft of British literature.

Most of the books circulating in America around this time were brought over from England, but copyright laws were nonexistent. Connecticut eventually established laws protecting an author's work, and several states followed.

The acceptable definition of piracy as it was deemed in the United Nations Convention of 1982 is any illegal act or detention, violence, or depredation committed by ship or aircraft passengers, but there are issues with this definition. For instance, the definition doesn't address which law should define illegal acts. Even so, piracy has always referred to forcibly kidnapping people or stealing another ship at sea. This definition has been reconceptualized for the purpose of copyright works.

A copyrighted work, such as a novel, is owned by its creator. Anyone stealing it or using it without permission has committed both theft and piracy. Most of America's recent copyright legislation has been in response to piracy, which isn't surprising considering how easily information is created, shared, and stolen online.

For instance, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) gives copyright owners more control over their works as a way of fighting piracy. Other laws have retroactively granted copyright holders additional decades of ownership. On the downside, copyright law was never meant to benefit corporate copyright holders alone, but it has done just that in large part due to piracy.

What Is Intellectual Property Infringement?

Intellectual property infringement is a breach of IP rights, such as pirating or counterfeiting a work that doesn't belong to you. While piracy is the unauthorized use, distribution, or reproduction of a work, counterfeiting is imitating goods and passing them off as genuine. Counterfeited goods are usually lower quality than the original.

In other words, piracy describes the act of reproducing books, films, music, and other works, while counterfeiting is the creation of fake goods.

New Strategies Against IP Theft

Companies lose billions of dollars in revenue from pirated intellectual property, robbing the U.S. of tax revenue and jobs. The FBI has worked closely with copyright holders, brand owners, and trademark owners to identify the causes of IP theft and create new strategies for dealing with the problem.

New strategies expand efforts to third-party entities such as:

  • Online marketplaces
    • These sites draw in consumers with their sense of security and competitive pricing, giving counterfeiters an outlet for exploiting the marketplace.
  • Online advertising systems
    • Website owners can outsource monetization efforts, which criminals can exploit as a means of drawing traffic to their own sites and offering counterfeit goods for sale.
  • Payment service providers
    • Payment alternatives and credit card payment processors give counterfeiters the appearance of operating legitimate businesses when in fact they are anything but legitimate.

It is essential to broaden one's awareness of piracy and how intellectual property is stolen to better protect it and uncover fraud. The FBI has also shifted its focus to trade secret cases and helping businesses use analytical techniques and tools for uncovering fraudulent activities.

Utilizing Knowledge Management

One of the key strategies in preventing piracy is knowledge management, which is a systematic capture of experiences and insights enabling companies to create, identify, distribute, and represent knowledge. The objective is to improve performance, enhance competitiveness, and share information using clear guidelines. Rather than shut down and avoid sharing intellectual property, knowledge management recognizes the importance of allowing the flow of knowledge to continue via more organized methods.

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