Digital Piracy and Protecting your IP

With the ease of online distribution and the availability of affordable manufacturing, the number of incidents of global piracy are on the rise. For anyone with IP online, the threat is real, and the effects can be devastating to both the reputation and bottom line of companies large and small.  As perpetrator efforts become more creative and advanced, it’s up to brand holders to fight back. While there are numerous ways for the unauthorized use of digitally protected copyrighted materials to be traced and reprimanded using anti-piracy stings by several governing authorities, it’s often up to the IP holder to instigate the actions.

But what exactly is digital piracy? How does it affect brand holders? How can you protect your digital IP?

What is Digital Piracy?

Internet piracy refers to the unauthorized and/or illegal use of a copyrighted material or software by replication and distribution.

The main benefactor of Internet piracy is peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems that are easily accessible to everyone, allowing bad actors to send/receive the files in a matter of seconds.

In this post, we focus on three of the most popular types of digital piracy: software, media and entertainment, and literature.


According to a report by Revulytics, 2 out of every 5 copies of all software produced is pirated. As a result, the copyright owner is denied fair compensation for use of their creative works.  Not only does the company lose the money they would have made from the legitimate sale of the product, but as a result of compounding financial losses related to piracy, funds to continue to develop new products are restricted, resulting in a reduction of resources they could otherwise use to devote to research and development of future products. In many cases, developers help to offset the losses due to piracy by raising the prices of their products to legitimate consumers, a move that helps them recoup lost revenue but also risks alienating legitimate users who are frustrated at having to pay the price for other’s illegal activities.

Media and Entertainment (film/television/music)

As the availability of online content continues to explode and with the ease of streaming, consumers are constantly on the hunt for new and cutting-edge ways to enjoy their favorite entertainment.  Unfortunately, some users prefer to bypass legitimate sites and instead utilize sites that allow for unauthorized downloading and streaming of copyrighted material.  A 2017 report from Variety Magazine estimated that there were over 300 billion visits to websites that catered to streaming pirated content last year alone, a number that is up 1.6% from 2016.

Television shows were the number one most pirated form of entertainment, accounting for over a third of all the reported piracy, followed by the music industry at 73.9 billion visits, and feature films with 53.2 billion visits.

Digital E-Books

With the rise and convenience of e-readers, many consumers are foregoing hard copies of books and magazines and instead choosing to read content online.  While these digital copies of literary works are preferred by many consumers, the ease and availability of pirated e-book content has raised serious concerns with many writers and publishing companies.   

According to Statista, more than 3.1 million books were illegally downloaded in the United States in 2017 alone, resulting in a loss of over $315 million. 

5 Ways to Help Protect Your Digital IP

In order to overcome the threat of digital piracy, companies and brand holders must develop robust and comprehensive anti-piracy strategies and review them on a regular basis.  We’ve pulled together our top 5 best-practice suggestions for how an IP holder can help keep their content safe in the event of piracy.[1] 

  1. Register your IP -

     Step number one is to ensure that all IP is properly copyrighted and trademarked. Although copyright and trademarks can’t stop bad actors from pirating your IP, having those legal protections provide you with the strongest position in cases of copyright infringement.
  2. Put Your Copyright Notice in Writing - 

    Make sure you have your copyright notices available on all your digital content. While it won’t prevent piracy, it does let any bad actors know that the content is protected and that you are the legal owner. Should your content end up being pirated and the bad actors caught, having your policy in a visible spot makes it harder for bad actors to claim they were unaware they were committing a crime.
  3. Work with the Authorities –

     Having a good relationship with federal, state and local government entities will make it easier for you to pursue bad actors should you decide to do so. Establishing relationships with legitimate online marketplaces that deal in the distribution of digital property is also a good idea. Make sure you’re familiar with the take down policies of most e-commerce platforms and ensure that all your proof of ownership and legal documentation for your IP is current with them as well.
  4. Keep an Eye on the Internet –

     Constant vigilance and monitoring of your IP online allows you to know how and where your IP is being used and by whom. While it’s possible to do this on your own, the vast number of bad actors and the speed at which digital information travels can make this feel like an overwhelming task. Consider hiring a brand protection specialist to monitor the Internet for you.
  5. Enforce Your Copyright Claims

     The best way to combat online piracy is to show the pirates you’re serious about protecting your IP. This can mean hiring professionals to help you with cease-and-desist letters, DMCA takedowns, and should it come to it, legal action.

 [1] This blog post provides generalized information and does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client communication. Each situation is unique and requires consultation with suitable professionals.

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