Digital Piracy and the Copyright Response

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Piracy has existed as long as there have been copyrighted works and reproduction technologies. Since the invention of the printing press, copyright holders have been concerned about the extensive unauthorized copying of their works. Although the cost, quality, and speed of reproduction may vary significantly, copyists have always been able to free ride on others’ creative efforts. Thus, policymakers often need to evaluate and calibrate their copyright policies to ensure that these policies provide authors with sufficient incentives to create.

Today, the Internet and new communications technologies have made digital piracy of copyrighted works a serious global problem. The U.S. copyright industry claimed that piracy had cost billions of dollars in revenue while threatening the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide. In 2002 alone, the United States was estimated to have had lost more than US$10 billion from copyright piracy abroad, not to mention the significant losses suffered domestically via the Internet.1 It is therefore no surprise that the copyright industries have been aggressively pursuing legal actions and lobbying for stronger protection throughout the world.

This Chapter discusses the various legislative measures policymakers have taken to alleviate the digital piracy problem. Part I provides an overview of copyright protection. Part II discusses the 1996 WIPO Internet Treaties, which strengthened international copyright protection in the online environment. This Part also discusses the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States and the EU Information Society Directive, both of which were enacted to implement the WIPO Internet Treaties. Part III examines the EU Database Directive and explains why the United States remains reluctant to offer sui generis protection to databases. Part IV explores the use of compulsory licensing to alleviate the digital piracy problem. To illustrate this licensing scheme, this Part focuses on the compulsory levy system countries have adopted to deal with the private copying of copyrighted music and the shortcomings of that system. Part V explains how digital piracy is likely to spread from the music industry to other industries and how it will grow into a major transnational problem. This chapter concludes by offering brief suggestions on how policymakers should craft their copyright responses.

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AMIC Asian Communication Series

Series Title

The Internet and Governance in Asia: A Critical Reader


Asian Media Information and Communication Centre


Indrajit Banerjee