What is it?
The most common way of downloading and uploading files is known as peer-to-peer file sharing.
This is when users use software to search for shared files on the computers of other users connected to the network. Files can then be downloaded directly from other users on the network, rather than one accountable website hosting the files themselves. Large files are broken down into smaller files, which can be obtained from multiple peers and then reassembled automatically by the downloader.
This is done while the peer is simultaneously uploading the chunks it already has to other peers.
Who’s been caught?
The vast majority of those convicted of internet piracy – or quite simply, copyright fraud – in the UK have been those uploading, or making available, films, music and games.
The owner of Surfthechannel.com - a site that provided links to illegally copied TV shows and films – was in August sentenced to four years in jail.
The site used to be one of the UK's most popular sources of pirated content. The site’s owner Anton Vickerman, from Gateshead, was not charged on copyright offences, but was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to facilitate copyright infringement following a private prosecution pursued by the anti-piracy lobby group Federation Against Copyright Theft .
But it’s not just the owners of sites that have been nabbed. In 2008 an unemployed mum of two from east London was ordered to pay more than £16,000 in compensation after she illegally shared games with friends over the internet.
Isabella Barwinska, 32, was taken to court by Topware Interactive who said she had shared copies of their game, Dream Pinball 3D, illegally.
The first person in Scotland to be convicted for illegally sharing music files online was Anne Muir from Ayr. Last year she admitted distributing £54,000 worth of copyrighted music files by making them available to others via a peer-to-peer file sharing application. She was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Predictably, it’s in America where the largest cases against piracy are taking place – and not just those uploading it. Around seven years ago the Recording Industry Association of America sued 18,000 people for illegally downloading music. Most were either settled out of court or dismissed, but a few people fought the charges. Those who lost now face massive fines – as high as $675,000 in Joel Tenenbaum’s case. He was found guilty of illegally downloading 30 songs.
But the tentacles of America’s crusade against piracy are also stretching across the Atlantic. British student Richard O'Dwyer, 24, faces up to 10 years in US prison for alleged copyright offences relating to TVShack.net, a website that provided links to places where users could watch TV shows and films online. He is facing extradition to the US and his appeal against extradition is due to be heard in London in October.
What's the damage?
The exact level of internet piracy is hard to gauge, and those doing the research often have a vested interest in exaggerating figures.
However, market research firm Harris Interactive believe there are 8.3 million file sharers in the UK, and the British Phonographic Industry has claimed that in 1999 UK music purchases totalled £1,113 million but had fallen to £893.8 million in 2008.
According to a 2009 report carried out by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry 95 per cent of music downloads are unauthorised.
The Motion Picture Association of America claimed internet piracy cost them $6.1bn in lost revenue in 2005. They said buying bootlegged dvds accounted for $2.4 billion in lost revenue. Illegal copying - which included viewers making copies for their own personal use - made up $1.4 billion.
The UK has reacted to internet piracy by producing a draft code which will come into effect on March 1 2014. From then on, the UK's biggest Internet Service Providers like BT, O2, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin will have to send letters to customers warning them when there is an allegation from a film, TV or music company that there has been illegal downloading from their computer.
People who get three warning letters in a year will face having anonymous information of their downloading and filesharing history provided to copyright owners, which could then be used to gain a court order to reveal the customer's identity and take legal action.
You will be able to appeal against a report on alleged infringement, but at a cost of £20 that is refundable if you’re successful.
The waters start to muddy, however, when the issue of wireless networks comes into play. Who is responsible for the actions of multiple anonymous internet users in coffee shops, hotels and airports? This is still an unresolved aspect of the new law.
So the new law will come into play in 2014, but research by Birmingham University has said that anyone currently sharing or downloading files illegally using the widely used software BitTorrent is likely to be monitored right now.
Copyright-enforcement organisations and security firms are being employed, but most are holding the data for the future without acting upon it immediately, the researchers said.
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