IP piracy makes waves on the Internet

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Annemarie Bridy

Reports of the demise of piracy are greatly exaggerated.  Across the globe, theft of intellectual property is alive and thriving – and attempts to block it, regulate it, and punish it have pretty much failed, according to a University of Idaho law professor.

Annemarie Bridy of the University of Idaho College of Law spoke at a lunchtime gathering sponsored by the Intellectual Property Student Organization (IPSO) on the subject: “Why Pirates (Still) Won’t Behave: Regulating P2P Ten Years after Napster.”

Bridy said various attempts by tech developers, service providers and trade groups to stop piracy of music, movies, books and other works have alienated the very people they are trying to serve. Attempts to control the use of digital property through Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology created problems of its own as material often wouldn’t work with different equipment or service providers. DRM provoked an uproar among consumers who felt they were losing control of their property.

Efforts to target those who facilitate file-sharing and piracy, a/k/a/ Napster et al., were successful in court, but “peer-to-peer,” or P2P, piracy continues, Bridy said. Attempts by the Recording Industry Association of America and others to use “undercover users” to record and track addresses caused problems of mistaken identity, including one widely publicized instance involving an 83-year-old woman who had never owned a computer. Illegal providers and users also quickly learned to block their addresses or “migrated to darknets” where access is tightly controlled. Service providers are hesitant to police themselves, she said, citing concerns over Internet neutrality, privacy and their historical role as “mere conduits.” 

Fear of prosecution as a deterrent faded after reaching its peak in 2003, she said. Headline-making trials and wildly inflated verdicts created a public relations nightmare because the punishments seemed way out of line with the offense. Most of those creating copies and sharing files were not international criminals but college students and kids, she said.

The best hope for a solution, Bridy said, may lie in educating the young about the ethics of file sharing. And, the industry must realize coercive tactics alone won’t work.  According to Bridy, companies must recognize consumers’ legitimate criticism of “draconian” regulatory methods and find a way to address demands for greater flexibility.  “There are lots of places out there that have absolutely no respect for intellectual property,” she cautioned.

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