Information Technology and Ethics/Digital Piracy



The Internet is a new global space for everyone which connects all kinds of people within cyberspace and provides a Digital workspace for them to work in that is parallel to the real world but provides much more opportunity through worldwide collaboration and faster speed to achieve goals. This has caused a rippling effect throughout our world where more of people's existence is being moved onto the Digital World and it is impacting everyone greatly with so much new information being put out there.[1] This also includes the legal world with many new questions arising as well as confusion about how such a place can be governed and how laws can be implemented here. The problems that occur in the Digital World have many ethical sides to them and are increasingly difficult to resolve in an ethical way. Businesses also seek to have their intellectual property be protected by copyright law. This for them is a major concern and is related to a major controversial topic of how to address Digital Piracy, a new term popping up with the growth of the internet.[2]

Digital Piracy is only one of many types of Internet piracy. According to Norton, Internet Piracy have five different types:[3]

  • Counterfeiting
  • Internet Piracy (Digital Piracy)
  • End-User Piracy
  • Client-Server Overuse
  • Hard-Disk Loading

Digital Piracy Etymology


To truly understand what the term “Digital Piracy” means the words that comprise must first be understood. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2020) definitions of Piracy is as follows

" The crime of attacking ships at sea in order to steal from them”[4]


"The act of making illegal copies of DVDs, computer programs, books, etc., in order to sell them”[4]

Oxford's definition is not completely accurate because it limits the Digital Piracy domain to only selling stolen copyrighted materials even though they can be shared free of charge on peer-to-peer file-sharing platforms. To understand Digital Piracy's domain, we must also comprehend the Digital World by starting to understand what the word Digital means. Oxford again defines Digital as

"Using a system of receiving and sending information as a series of the numbers one and zero, showing that an electronic signal is there or is not there”[5]


" connected with the use of computer technology, especially the internet.”[5]

So Digital would mean communicating over this medium provided by computer technology. This can then help us define the term of a Digital Piracy as copying a copyrighted property without authorization using the medium provided by computer technology for any reason.

Digital World


The Internet has changed the world and provided many benefits to the people all around it, such as being able to connect previously isolated areas together in a place that has no real geographical border and with that the side effects of having no laws either. Many groups use the Internet to gather and share ideas, conduct business, and even provide consumer services. These benefits, however, can only be used by moving some of your existence onto the internet. There is also a dark side to all these benefits, caused by people moving their beliefs, views, and grudges onto the internet and unlike the real world they have perceived anonymity and no rules to stop them.[6] This attracts people with bad intentions can now commit crimes in this digital world that has no specified geographical area that would break laws in their real-world residence. This blind spot is being seen and acknowledged by many nations and as such, they have started to try and combat the growth of digital crimes. They have begun to do this by migrating their laws onto the internet. This has been causing confusion about who has jurisdiction and what fits the definition of a crime. As well as nations, businesses also seek to have their rights acknowledged and are promoting the implementation of better laws regarding [7] the digital world and some seek to combat one crime in particular, digital piracy, which is stealing their products through copying and reselling through stronger copyright laws. However, this must be balanced with an ethical approach of implementation by whatever agency seeks to regulate the internet.

Copyrights (Ethical View)


The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as:

"...a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." [8]

This includes a range of works covering the expanse of diverse mediums including books, movies, songs, and computer software.[8] Copyright exists from the moment an individual creates a work that falls under one of the protected categories.[9] This makes registration with the appropriate offices optional. However, it is required to formally undergo the copyright registration process with the U.S. Office of Copyright if an individual wants to file a lawsuit related to copyright infringement of a U.S. work. A copyright gives the respective creator legal ground to defend the use, reproduction, and modification of a work.

It is important to note that copyrights only seek to protect tangible works and not abstract creations such as facts or ideas.[8] It is difficult to prove that a concept belongs to a person, although it is possible to copyright specific processes and methods. Understanding what is and is not covered by copyright causes the exploration of related ideas to become nuanced, discussion surrounding the current scope of copyrights and potential misuse and infringement makes the most sense if the proper works and terms are considered. Copyrights were established to encourage people to produce more original works since there would be a way to defend creator rights. However, there are situations in which copyrights are misused or infringed upon, in which case moral and ethical considerations are needed.

Ethical Considerations


Infringement and Fair Use


A common concern is that copyright laws and terms limit the distribution of knowledge, thus being an ethical concern because this can hinder the free exchange of information and ideas. Copyright law in the U.S. gives the creator of a work the right to make copies, distribute material, produce derivative content, and perform or display the work at will [10] Because of this, explicit permission is required in many circumstances to utilize a copyrighted work within legal means. The argument stands that the need for permission withholds universal access to interacting with the work, creating an obstacle for the public to derive further meaning. Failing to secure consent would result in copyright infringement, which is the act of reproducing, distributing, publicly performing and/or displaying, and creating derivative works without prior permission from the owner of the copyright.[9]

Notably, there are instances in which any existing copyrights on a work can be ignored without infringing upon the terms, therefore eliminating grounds for any potential unfairness that copyright might cause in regards to accessing materials. Members of the public are allowed to use copyrighted works for specific purposes under fair use specifications, as part of the Copyright Act.[11] Fair use addresses any concerns of the accessibility of a work, within reason the public does not require explicit consent to interact with materials.

Most fair use cases fall within one of two categories:[12]

  • Commentary and Criticism
  • Parody

Fair use allows a person or party to reproduce parts of a work in order to comment on the material or critique it, the justification behind this use is that members of the public can gain new insight and knowledge from the commentary. An example of this would be including exact sentences from a novel to write an article review of said book. Parodies push this boundary further and allow greater portions of a work to be recreated for the sake of producing a comical version of the original work, such as mimicking a scene from a movie as a comedy skit.

Fair use is a means of defense; a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement must be present before the use of a work can be assessed as fair and within legal boundaries. There are four main considerations to make when determining fair use:[13]

  1. Purpose and character behind the use
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work in question
  3. Amount of the work that was utilized
  4. Effects on the value of the work after use

It matters if the use is for commercial means rather than for educational or nonprofit purposes. It would be legally and morally incorrect to make money off of the unlicensed use of a copyrighted work, but it would be acceptable, in some cases, to reproduce a work for educating, among other things. This would be similar in concept to plagiarism with the exception that the moral dilemma is not rooted in lying about the origin of a work, but rather preventing the appropriate entity from receiving deserved payment.


Although copyrights were created to protect the rights a creator has over their work, there are cases in which copyright holders attempt to file for copyright infringement for situations outside of the specified terms. This is an ethical concern as copyright misuse imposes on the potential fair use by a third-party.

"In brief, it [copyright misuse] is the use of a copyright to secure an exclusive right or limited monopoly not granted by copyright law and against public policy."[14]

Copyright misuse is a defense against a copyright infringement claim, the concept was first used in 1990 during the Lasercomb America, Inc v, Reynolds case.[15] During this case, the Fourth Circuit decided that the plaintiff had misused copyright on software by including a provision in the license that forbade the user from creating competing software. It was determined that this went beyond the scope of what the copyright protected, therefore claiming infringement was a misuse of the terms on the creator’s behalf.

Recent developments in technology have seen increased use in copyright misuse as a defense when it comes to software as this is a commonly licensed product. The moral and ethical issues behind copyright misuse are clear, it is unjust to prevent fair use and licensed use by monopolizing the materials protected by copyright.



Just as nothing happens without a reason, every action has its effect whether it is a nuclear fusion or a butterfly wing movement. Such fundamental concepts are the same regardless of the world we apply them in whether they are real, digital worlds. Digital Piracy has clouded both worlds by continuously impacting every sector, field, organization, and person it touches. Understanding the effects of Digital Piracy might be challenging due to its complexity and overlapping with different aspects. Therefore, all Digital Piracy effects will be categorized or viewed as social, security, economical, and legal effects in order to develop different lenses where we can look to the subject through them.

Social effects


Many would have a wrong perception that any content creator, such as their favorite book writer or a song singer, is the copyright holder and the one who makes a profit out of their work. Charles W.L. Hill illustrates this in his paper as follows:

"Note that the copyright holder is typically not the entity responsible for the creation of the intellectual property, but instead is the publisher of that property" [16]

Envision, for a second, that you are a hopeful lyricist and artist. You contribute a whole year to composing your first collection. Your new collection is at long last delivered and hits the market. You start making an unobtrusive amount of cash. In any case, you find that your work has been duplicated and disseminated over the web without your authorization or any compensation to you. Presently you start losing your income that your work generates. You can't bear to compose a subsequent collection, because of this budgetary misfortune. Also, you find somebody selling your group at a decreased cost. Accordingly, not exclusively are you losing cash, yet another person is profiting from your work, and besides this that artist needs to work.

The previous example can apply on any scale whether for individuals os big organizations and the music industry and how digital piracy could eventually cripple it is a real living threat, Let's consider the music industry as an example. Music piracy costs the recording industry billions of dollars in lost revenue, and as with most things in business, those losses disproportionately affect the lower-level workers in the music industry. That means professional songwriters who earn money writing those pop hits people love are often left without work because of tight budgets. That also means there’s less money for music producers, sound engineers, and sound technicians, as well as people who work in what’s known as “artists and repertoire,” or A&R, the talent scouts responsible for adding new blood to the music industry. So by pirating of just one music album, all the above people gets affected and they lose their motive in doing such kind of job and they stop creating or innovating new things because they start suffering financial crisis due to piracy and they will look out for other jobs to start earning their bread.

Security Effects


All-inclusive, there is noteworthy proof to interface programming piracy with the recurrence of malware assaults. While this correlation has not been mapped with accuracy, the proof from industry sources proposes that business sectors with high programming piracy rates likewise tend to encounter high paces of malware infection.[17]

Security threats such as viruses, worms, trojans, and spyware are often designed to exploit vulnerabilities in common software products, forcing software developers to constantly develop patches and other fixes to keep emerging-malware at bay. The individuals who use pirated, unlicensed programming are commonly incapable of getting to or download essential patches and necessary updates that guarantee their frameworks stay as secure as could reasonably be expected, and are in this manner progressively vulnerable to assault over the long haul. Additionally, when contaminated, purchasers are frequently compelled to go to specialists to fix the harm done by the malware, regularly refuting any reserve funds from having obtained and utilized the items unlawfully.

Economic Effects


Online piracy costs the US economy nearly $30 billion every year, with piracy recordings saw more than 200 billion times, as indicated by a report from the US Office of Trade.

The GIPC's report, which was discharged in the organization with NERA Monetary Counseling, found that piracy completed across gushing administrations have now outperformed download-based piracy as the essential vehicle for pilfered recordings. 80% of piracy is owing to spilling contrasted and only a couple of years back, when BitTorrent downloads represented about 40% alone.

Piracy Programs have the most popular, with more than 230 billion perspectives consistently around the world, with by far most originating from outside the US. 126 billion of these perspectives were of substance created in the US. Well, known Television programs like Round of Honored positions tried hard to decrease piracy in front of its last season.[18]


It's not merely the copyright holders that are influenced. People utilizing pilfered materials are liable to fines for copyright encroachment that can extend as high as $150,000 per infringement. Indeed, even without financial punishments, getting a cut it out from a copyright holder, requesting payment for encroaching their copyright, is a disagreeable encounter. The unauthorized copying of personal computer software for use in the office or at home or sharing of software among friends is the most pervasive form of piracy encountered abroad and in the United States.[19]



There are numerous attempts to list reasons for digital piracy in order to have a better understanding of it, thereby mitigating it if not ending it. Though, the list gets longer every time which complicates the problem even more. However, if we believe that every action (response) has a motive (stimulus) that triggers it, we can classify pirating reasons into motivational categories. Hence, solutions can be found for every category, rather than for every reason in each category.

Kevin J. Shanahan and Michael R. Hyman [20] refer to Digital Piracy as (SCOURing) in their study. In the study, digital piracy was inspected from the lenses of shoplifting with all its related angels. Consequently, the researchers concluded that there are six main motivational categories that drive pirates towards Digital Piracy (SCOURing):



Rationalizing their non-normative behaviors to Justify SCOURing or by beliefs (Kevin J. Shanahan and Michael R. Hyman).[20] They explain it as what pirates do to exonerate their actions with claims such as that these companies can afford it, or that the one who is being pirated cheated first. Some of the pirates do not even feel like they are harming anyone, and the researchers are attributing such feelings to the fact that digital files lack the physical existence; therefore, no victim is being recognized.



The researchers introduced economic motives from two points of view, stealing and profiting. Those who steal just because they do not want to pay for the digital files are seen exactly like those who shoplift; different techniques and environments, but the same motive.[20]

On the other hand, those who profit from pirating whether by selling the pirated files or by pirating as a service. According to the study, piracy activities and prices are entangled; whenever the reward from piracy increases, pirating activities become tempting. Regardless of the real reason for such pirates, if there are fewer people who would pay for such contents and services, pirating activities will decrease; law of supply and demand.

Believed pervasiveness by peers (P2P)


Distributing pirated files in order to establish social links (Kevin J. Shanahan and Michael R. Hyman).[20] Those who aim for social acceptance in their social environment tend to behave in a way that grants them this. The environment or the people surrounding us have the effect to influence behaviors that might not be acceptable in a different situation; cultural differences are proof of that. The researchers point out that in groups, beliefs can be quelled such as the wrongness of digital piracy because of the influence of the majority and the environment. Making online friends is no different than in real life; therefore, the same acceptance criteria apply to join any online group of people.

Social norms vary depending on culture. Their impacts become greater in the Digital world due to the fact that people from all over the world when connected are developing their own digital norms so they can deal with each and other; this explains why there are some behaviors that the Digital world citizens will never do except there. Developing a digital citizenship identity and norms based on the real world might mitigate Digital Piracy because any behavior definitions won't differ depending on where it was practiced (Stealing is the same no matter what country it was conducted in).



According to Kevin J. Shanahan and Michael R. Hyman, this category covers those who do any pirate activity for testing or experimentation, or simply the thrill from breaking security. The study points out that peer-to-peer networks can be seen for pirates as a treasure of illegally obtained content in these networks. Furthermore, peer-to-peer software and network comparisons might also lead to piracy.[20] It is like the first time someone smokes, just to experience it, but instead of just affecting themselves, they affect a whole industry.

Believed recklessness


Basically, those who commit piracy crimes out of total ignorance of the law, or thinking that these laws are irrelevant or laughable (Kevin J. Shanahan and Michael R. Hyman).[20] Ignorance or weakness of the law and its enforcement will undermine anti-piracy deterrence efforts due to the lack of fear of consequences.

Tech savviness


According to the study,[20] technical skills play a major role in computer-mediated consumption, and tech savviest are those who have these skills and use them in piracy. The researchers point out that Internet usage and the quality of web interfaces made people more tech-savvy; thereby, more fluent and comfortable with using piracy-related technologies.



With the rise of the digital age, piracy has become a problem for many sectors. Digital piracy occurs when someone, who is not the copyright holder, copies the product, and either uses or sells it illegally.[21] Digital piracy has a large impact on industries such as film, music, and journalism. The ethics of digital piracy is difficult to pin down because it is often viewed as a victimless crime. However, the people who bear the loss of piracy are often writers, creators, and scholars. Often, music, movies, and academic journals are downloaded from the internet without payment. In order to establish a code of ethics surrounding digital piracy, one must establish that there are victims of this crime.
Being behind a computer screen often makes people bolder. This causes them to behave differently than they would in public. The anonymity of the internet often causes people to feel less exposed, and therefore more likely to partake in illicit behavior. Digital piracy is a gateway crime that has the potential to lead to larger crimes. In a culture where digital piracy is commonplace, it illustrates a lack of respect for laws. If the laws governing copyrights are not enforced, it becomes more likely that other laws may not be enforced. This breeds a culture in which laws are not held as the ultimate authority they should be.

"The political economy of corruption that accompanies such activities undermines political authority and legitimacy, and therefore piracy contributes to a normalization of corruption." [22]

This normalization of corruption has unlimited ramifications for society if left unchecked.

"The attitude of individuals toward digital piracy is also found to be influenced by perceived benefits, perceived risk, and habit" [23]

Often, people view the benefit of piracy as high, with the potential risk as low due to it often not being regulated and punished appropriately. Once they have established this pattern of theft and not being punished for it, it becomes a habit. This habit then extends to anything they could digitally pirate. It can branch out from movies to music, academic journals, books, and many more. The copyright holders of these pirated goods are then not receiving proper compensation for their work. This causes an economic shift and loss in profits for the creators of digital products.
Ultimately, we must band together as an evolving community and establish a code of enforceable laws and ethics surrounding digital media.

"We must look for common ethical principles so that digital cultures can become a genuine expression of human liberty and creativity" [24]

Without this change, the artists and creators of our society will suffer. In turn, society will miss out on their creative contributions to the world and culture. This would be a huge loss in the realm of entertainment, art, and academic research. It must be established that digital piracy is wrong ethically and legally. Digital piracy breaches copyrights and should be punishable by society and the law. In order to hold people accountable for their actions within the realm of digital piracy, laws must be enforced. The punishment for the crime must outweigh the potential gain to the perpetrator. Without this shift, digital piracy will not be taken seriously as a crime, and therefore will not end.
Overall, digital piracy is a violation of copyrights and is illegal. This sector should be patrolled by law enforcement, just as retail shops are. A product sold in a digital format online is still a good that has value. It should be purchased not taken with anything given in return. In order to maintain the growth of digital media, and society’s use of it, content creators must receive adequate compensation for their work. Ethically and legally, digital piracy is wrong. Moving forward, society must make it a priority to police, punish, and protect the appropriate parties involved in digital media copyrights and piracy.


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