Blog Post

Internet Piracy

Megan Ptak, Wylder Tallman, Derek Holbrook, Maria DiPilato, Jaime McGrath

11 December 2017​

Intro to Communication & Media

Dr. Sylvia​​

Internet Piracy


The creation and sharing of intellectual property on the Internet is a process cherished by artists, writers, and creators of all mediums. It has become a staple of internet culture, found across just about every website and community. Because the Internet is such a widely used platform, it is nearly impossible for users and creators to define property rights that will be effectively enforced across the world. Boydell et al (2009) argue that the complex nature of property rights can be described as a constellation because it remains connected in an intricate web of both obligations and rights (Arvanitakis, Fredriksson). Also within this web are morality and legality, which are often compromised because of the anonymity and intimacy that comes with Internet browsing. This is an issue that persists beyond web pages and into the world of film. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the film industry lost $20 billion to piracy in 2011 (Gale Encyclopedia). Although laws have been created to stifle illegal streaming and file sharing, it remains a frustrating aspect of the communications field that can be analyzed as a moral issue through the perspectives of media theorists such as Langdon Winner, Henry Jenkins, and James Carey.

While people are aware of the illegality of piracy, it remains a prevalent issue because it is infrequently viewed as unethical. Those who pirate media often would not consider theft of any other kind (Woolley). Because of their negligence of this immorality, adults are more likely than children to pirate movies because adults make decisions that satisfy their moral compass, and children simply shy away from situations that will get them into trouble. A person of any age may decide that it is okay for them to view illegal content because they simply cannot afford to buy it, and they feel they deserve to see it. This is a reason why piracy persists, it is not done solely by young adults and teenagers with moral ambiguity. Filmmakers put such a large amount of effort into their projects that pirating films undermines their hard work. Their dedication and attention to detail should be a driving force that brings people to theaters for viewing.

The morality of piracy can be analyzed through the ideas of Langdon Winner, who questions whether or not artifacts have political qualities. Winner argues that technology matters less than the social system where it is embedded and that it is shaped by social and economic forces. He sees technology as a way of building order in the world, and he explains this by alluding to cotton spinning mills. In this system, cotton must move through a variety of locations within the factory. This represents society’s desire for rigid discipline and efficiency. Media piracy may represent the need for a constant stream of media. People persistently search for new media that will grab their attention in a way that they haven’t yet experienced. It could also represent a group mentality. While people understand the immorality of piracy, it is so often practiced that it has become a common activity. Winner says that the need to maintain crucial technological systems as smoothly working entities has tended to eclipse other sorts of moral and political reasoning. Similarly, the Internet provides such easy access to free pirated media, that it is often difficult to reason against viewing it. Because of the jump in technology use in recent years, people have become accustomed to using Internet resources to make their lives easier. The issue of piracy may also be a representation of greed within the United States. Some are the understanding that they are entitled to the intellectual property, and will not allow morality to sway their decision to view it.

In addition to being a moral issue, media piracy accounts for an incredible loss of revenue within the film industry. Economists such as Arthur S. De Vany and W. David Walls have estimated the extent of this issue with a simple equation that relates the number of pirated sources of a movie to its change in revenue. Rt = F(Pt, t), where Rt is the change in the movie’s theatrical revenue in week t and Pt is the number of pirate sources of the movie in week t, tells us that a movie with 1 million illegal downloads will see a $6 million loss in revenue if a movie ticket averages at $6. This does not even account for those who may have seen the pirated movie multiple times or with multiple people. Perpetual loss of revenue may eventually prevent movies from being released, affecting people inside the industry as well as consumers.

Media Piracy is an issue that affects not only North America but countries with emerging economies as well. Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, edited by Joe Karaganis, is a study that tells of the growth of piracy and laws created in an effort to stop it. In countries such as India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Mexico, and Bolivia, the main reason for piracy is that the general public simply doesn’t have enough disposable income to afford media purchases. Relative to local incomes in Brazil, Russia, or South Africa, the retail price of a CD, DVD, or copy of Microsoft Office is five to ten times higher than in the US or Europe (Karaganis). Because these countries do not have domestic companies that compete for customers, they experience high prices from worldwide corporations. Enforcement on a large scale is unsuccessful in these countries, but many small stores are susceptible to raids where pirated DVDs are confiscated. Just like in America, it is nearly impossible to enforce legal media viewing across an entire country. Because Internet browsing is such an intimate experience that so many have access to, it is unimaginable to determine the legitimacy and intention of each content viewer.

Some argue that media piracy is not an issue of morality because first amendment rights allow them to freely share content. An article on the ethics of piracy from Stanford’s website breaks down the excuses that are often made to protect media pirates. Some feel as though having a right to view the software themselves gives them the right to copy it. Others claim that they are simply testing out the media, and if they enjoy it, they will purchase it. They find it ethical to steal media if they feel that the content creator has already made enough profit from the project. James Carey offers information regarding the culture of communication that can be used to support the ethical side of piracy. Carey writes that media is linked to terms such as “sharing,” “participation,” “association,” “fellowship,” and “the possession of a common faith. Also, the word “communication” shares a root word with “commonness,” “communion,” and “community.” In defining communication this way, it is reasonable to see that some may view online media as a cherished part of the Internet that everyone deserves to view and share. However, wiping revenue from the equation would quickly cause property arguments, and content creators would not be able to make a living working on media.

Piracy occurs on such a large scale that it has become nearly impossible to eradicate. The problem is perpetuated by search engines that have not taken measures to prevent searches of illegal streaming sites. Websites such as Popcorn Time, Pirate Bay, Project Free TV, Putlocker, Vodlocker, Vidbull, and File Hoot are all available by Google search (Holbrook).  Usually, these sites contain viruses that may deter the average viewer, but if popular search engines implement programs that will filter search results, illegal streaming may become an arduous task. However, Federal laws have been enacted in an effort to prevent electronic theft, and piracy only adapts and persists. In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act attempts to control the digital copyright to allow media content to justly earn revenue online. The act criminalizes production and dissemination of technology that is used to circumvent measures taken to protect copyright (Gale Encyclopedia). This law is ultimately unsuccessful because its imperfections are detrimental to legitimate content creators and consumers.

Illegal file sharing is advanced in 1999 by a program launched by a college student named Shawn Fanning. Within this system, Digital MP3 files are created from an audio compact disk CD by a process called “ripping.” The ripping software allows a CD user to compress the audio information on the CD into the MP3 format, and copy it directly onto a computer's hard drive (Gale Encyclopedia). This quickly becomes an issue within the music industry, because it diminishes the profits of record labels just as illegal file sharing does for films. Napster is shut down in 2001, but other services for similar activity such as Grokster and StreamCast are born. While these services continue to be shut down, more arise, and today there are countless sites for illegal media downloads.

Advancements in illegal file sharing and the easily accessible links to streaming sites may be interpreted by Henry Jenkins as spreadable media. In his article, “Spreadable Media,” Jenkins observes that content creators are having trouble with the practices of audiences because of informal and instantaneous sharing. He claims that networked communities are changing the way media spreads and leading to the development of a participatory culture. This relates perfectly to the sharing of illegal media because participatory culture is the reason that pirated movies and music have become spreadable content. Information has always been passed on through word of mouth, but with instantaneous, worldwide connection, communication has become astronomically simple. Jenkins defines “spreadability” as the technical and cultural potential for audiences to share content for their own purposes, sometimes with the permission of the rights holder, and sometimes against their wishes. The cultural aspect of this definition is particularly important because spreadability brings new forms of engagement with media. Instead of gathering to watch a television program, it has become common for people to watch television on the go because of streaming sites such as Netflix. This changes the way people act in person as well, because humans are less likely to approach somebody with earbuds in that is staring intensely at their phone. Sharing links to illegally downloadable files can also be done with this ease, so illegal viewing continues.

Media piracy is a habit that plagues the film and music industry, making it nearly impossible for artists to indulge in the profits that their projects bring in. This global issue accounts for millions of dollars worth of revenue loss yearly, and the question of morality goes far beyond the loss of revenue. Media theorists such as Winner, Jenkins, and Carey analyze social trends such as participatory culture and the political value of artifacts that help explain the population’s moral reasoning behind committing the crime of piracy. While piracy is a convenience to viewers who are struggling financially, it is morally correct that efforts should be made to stop the problem, so that content creators may have protected legal rights to their own creative property. Pirates, in their original definition, are attackers that steal treasure from ships. Media pirates are much the same in that they deliberately steal valued content.

Works Cited

Woolley, Darryl J. "The association of moral development and moral intensity with music piracy." Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 17, no. 3, 2015, p. 211+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 11 Dec. 2017.

Arvanitakis, James, and Martin Fredriksson. "Commons, Piracy, and the Crisis of Property." Triplec (Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation): Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 132-144. EBSCOhost,


"Piracy and File-Sharing." Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, edited by Gale, 3rd edition, 2013. Credo Reference, Accessed 07 Dec 2017.


Holbrook, Matthew, "Morality of Pirating Media" (2015). Advanced Writing: Pop Culture Intersections. 7.

Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, ed. Joe Karaganis (Social Science Research Council, March 2011),





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