The term “intellectual property piracy” may be defined as the unauthorized use, distribution, and/or sale, for commercial gain, of material or works in which the Intellectual Property rights belong to another. The phrase “intellectual property rights” generally refers to the proprietary rights which benefit the creator or authorized owner of a trademark, copyright, patent and/or an industrial design.
"Piracy" includes the reproduction and distribution of copies of copyright-protected material, or the communication to the public and making available of such material on on-line communication networks, without the authorization of the right owner(s) where such authorisation is required by law. Piracy concerns different types of works, including music, literature, films, software, video games, broadcasting programs and signals.
"Piracy" is the popular term used to describe the phenomenon. However, national copyright legislations generally do not include a legal definition. Today, the only international legal instrument in the copyright arena which provides a definition of "piracy" is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement):
"Pirated copyright goods shall mean any goods which are copies made without the consent of the right holder or person duly authorised by the rightsholder in the country of production and which are made directly or indirectly from an article where the making of that copy would have constituted an infringement of a copyright or a related right under the law of the country of importation".
Traditionally, piracy concerned the unauthorised reproduction and distribution of physical copies of protected works, on a commercial scale or with a commercial purpose. However, the rapid development of the Internet and the massive unauthorised on-line use of protected content, where the "commercial" element is often missing, have given rise to a lively debate. The question whether such use constitutes "piracy" and should be treated in the same way as traditional piracy is at the heart of the current copyright debate. Different, and often diverging, points of view are being put forward and the answer to the question differs from one country to another.
Apart from its traditional definition, piracy also refers to copyright violations. Committed both in the United States and abroad, this form of piracy includes the unauthorized storage, reproduction, distribution, or sale of intellectual property—for example, music CDs, movie videocassettes, and even fashion designs. The term has been applied, in particular, to the piracy of computer software, which is highly susceptible to theft because of its ease of duplication. Estimates of the cost to copyright holders ranges in the billions of dollars annually. U.S. law protects copyright holders under the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C.S. § 109 ), and a 1992 federal law makes software piracy a felony (Pub. L. No. 102-561, 106 Stat. 4233, codified at 18 U.S.C.A. § 2319 [1988 & 1992 Supp.]). Since the 1990s, a number of international treaties and conventions, as well as diplomatic initiatives, have sought to forge greater cooperation among nations to combat such piracy.
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