Page last updated at 00:11 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Creativity at mercy of intellectual pirates

By Nick Rankin
BBC World Service

Pirate DVDs
The average price of a pirate DVD is around 3 in the UK.

From illegal music downloads to counterfeit designer goods, there isn't anything that's not being replicated illegally.

Modern day pirates are copying everything from medicines to oxygen delivery systems for hospitals.

Copying a person's ideas or products without their knowledge is known as intellectual piracy.

Intellectual property covers a number of things like patents, designs, trademarks and copyright.

Keeping ideas safe

Stephen Selby, who is the Director of Intellectual Property for the Hong Kong Government feels it is important to keep ideas safe.

"It protects the fruits of people's invention or creativeness, so that they can earn money from the things that they have done," he said.

Medieval scholars used to write curses into their books
Duncan Lamont

"They can stop people earning money from it unless they agree."

Intellectual property accounted for around 40% of the growth of the US economy last year and in Britain it was around 10%.

An example of intellectual property can be something like Winnie the Pooh, which is owned by Disney.

Disney then uses the Winnie the Pooh brand to merchandise almost everything, from books to clothing.

Origins of copyright

The origins of copyright can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages according to Duncan Lamont, who is a lawyer at Charles Russell Solicitors in London.

"Medieval scholars used to write curses into their books and if anyone copied, they would also copy the curse and be cursed," he said

Piracy has become more like someone who likes freedom
Peter Sunde

"They didn't want people to run off with their ideas and exploit them."

However, copyright has now reached the digital age and the internet has transformed how we share information.

The possibilities of sharing files on the internet, be it data, music or movies, defies the idea of monopoly capitalism.

Copying ideas on the world wide web has become almost instantaneous, creating a whole new ocean of piracy.

Good or bad

Piracy is seen as a method of "not paying" and those who are regarded as pirates, simply see themselves as "information sharers".

Peter Sunde, one of the co-founders of Pirate Bay, a site that offers links to the download location of films, TV programmes, albums and software, thinks that piracy is not always a bad thing.

"Today piracy has become more like someone who likes freedom, someone who likes information exchange," he said.

However, Peter Sunde and three other men have been charged with conspiracy to break copyright law in Sweden, earlier this year.

Cost of piracy

The US claims that international piracy cost its economy 58bn and 273,000 jobs last year.

For example in China, only one in 10 DVDs purchased is original.

Pirate DVD copies of Spiderman 2
Pirate DVD copies of Spiderman 2

The underlying issue is that people do not want to pay the high legitimate prices that exist for things like CDs and DVDs, so they often go to pirate sites to download material.

Film pirates in the UK make an estimated 300m profit a year, according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact).

They say that simply buying a DVD could be contributing to crimes that involve benefit fraud, people smuggling and drugs.

The average price of a pirate DVD is around 3 on the streets of the UK.

"It's very big business for criminals, this isn't always some Jack the lad making a few quid down the pub, this is organised crime," said Eddy Leviten of Fact.

Time for change

It seems like the world wide web has made pirates of us all as we can look at and download almost anything we want without having to pay.

When the cost of books came down, piracy in books dramatically decreased
Duncan Lamont
Duncan Lamont, a lawyer at Charles Russell Solicitors in London, feels that if products or downloads are priced competitively - then this will inevitably get rid of piracy.

"When the cost of books came down, piracy in books dramatically decreased," he said.

The band Radiohead has been quite revolutionary in trying to get rid of music piracy.

They gave away their seventh album "In Rainbows" on the internet and let the public decide the price.

Tom Yorke, the band's lead singer feels that doing this benefits both the fans and artists.

"Most artists, the truth is they don't get paid at all for their digital stuff, they get ripped off and to take one's ownership of that and give it straight to people," he said.

"Say if you feel this is worth something, then that's great, and if you just want to hear it and pass it on, that's great too."

The future

It is ironic that the US is clamping down hard on piracy when Americans themselves were the biggest pirates in the 19th Century.

British authors such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to fight to be paid any royalties for their work in the US.

Now, it seems that yesterday's pirates are today's enforcers.

However, piracy will only remain as long as the demand persists.

Pirates, a three-part series by Nick Rankin, on BBC World Service.

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