Copyright infringement is an activity that raises awareness and profits of writers, artists, musicians, and performers by giving them free advertising that happens to be illegal. It first officially occurred after copyright was been created by the British in 1710. Before then writers had complained about not making enough money and thought that by creating law that prevented the illegal advertisement of their work they would be able to earn additional income. Unfortunately very little has changed since then and most writers still do not make enough money.
Those who perpetrate copyright infringement are often referred to as pirates, a reference to the fact that early copyright infringement groups would hang a pirate flag over their entrance in order to confuse the government into believing that they were only conducting simple piracy as opposed to copying and distributing copyrighted material.
History of Copyright infringement
Copyright infringement was first practiced in the taverns of European inns during the middle ages. Minstrels would routinely rip off other minstrels by listening to their music and singing and then reproducing it themselves at a later date without even so much as giving credit to the original minstrel. Some minstrels defended this practice by claiming that the music had been released into the public domain, and thus was fair game for anyone who wanted to use it. They pointed out that Homer did not intend for only a single person to be able to orate the Iliad or the Odyssey as the queues to see his shows would have become too long. Instead he intended for other performers and orators to copy his work and give it to anyone that asked. However other minstrels countered this by claiming that they weren't in the business for the art, they were in it for the money.
At the same time writers in China were experiencing their own copyright infringement plague thanks to the invention of printing. The famous legend Journey to the West was appropriated by numerous writers who proceeded to write and print their own copies of the story like a group of fan fiction writers. Eventually the characters mutated from their normal god-demon like origins into becoming a really hairy man who fought with a stick, a pig who fought with a rake, and a fish who fought with a shovel. This copyright infringement continues on to the present day in numerous forms. Some cultural experts call this phenomenon 'inspiration', but common sense states that any use of someone else's intellectual property is a copyright violation.
During the 18th century in Europe large numbers of satirical political cartoonists began to complain to the government about the fact that their cartoons were being reprinted without their consent. Many satirical cartoonists turned their efforts towards fighting piracy utilising various derogatory pictures such as the one shown here. In an ironic twist the government was forced to implement legislation protecting the intellectual property of the very satirical cartoonists who were satirising them. However they soon rectified this irony by implementing legislation that declared satirical cartoons to be sedition against the government and arrested and tortured all of the cartoonists.
The invention of the Morse telegraph in the middle of the 18th century led to an initial explosion of copyright infringement. Western Union telegraph cables were hacked so that pirates would be able to duplicate the messages. Numerous telegrams were replicated (often by hand) and passed around to friends and acquaintances. Some groups would gather together and send telegrams to each other of other telegrams thus forming the world's first peer to peer file sharing networks. However telegram copyright infringement soon died off as people realised their lives would be so much more fulfilling if they did not spend all their time reading a bunch of six word messages.
The 20th century saw the rise of numerous large copyright infringement companies. They expanded into numerous venues and thanks to technological advancements were able to spread the free advertisements around the world much more easily. Some musicians objected to the methods their fans were using to spread the love, however they were loathe to insult the efforts that their fans were going to so instead they hit back using the very famous song "Video Killed the Radio Star" in which Video was used as a metaphor for copyright infringement. Around the time the internet started to become popular a number of cliques developed in the heretofore brotherly piracy community.The members of the large copyright infringement companies started to look down upon newer non-incorporated pirates, labelling them as 'leeches' because giving someone a derogatory label feels really really good. As for themselves they decided to enact a huge merger of all the existing companies in order to create a huge mega-corporation. They initially called themselves 'Hells Pirates' because it sounded really cool, however they stopped using that because they didn't want to infringe on the copyright of the Hells Angels. Fortunately a new name was quickly devised. It had become common practice to label their goods as "Where's" because then only people who were a member of the mega corporation would be able to find pirated goods on the internet. Meanwhile the police and other authorites who would be typing 'wares' into the search engine would be fooled. The mega-corporation settled upon the name "The Scene" because by combining that name with the word "Where's" it created a funny company logo: "The Where's Scene". This also functioned as a password as by saying the company logo members would easily be able to tell who was a true pirate and who was just a leecher.
Real Life Examples
As copyright infringement in China is a national pastime, numerous instances can be observed across the country. In one cases it was permitted for a Chinese company to register the intellectual property of another Japanese company, Futubasha Ltd. as their own copyright before the Japanese company had entered the Chinese market. This allowed them to accuse the original company of trademark infringement once the Japanese company attempted to sell their own merchandise in the country. Futubasha appealed to the highest court in China however the court ruled that stealing someone's copyright and then using it to sue that person is looked on with approval in China, or at least it was before China entered the World Trade Organisation.
According to the Washington Post copyright infringement has become so bad recently that in 2005 it actually caused US companies to lose $250 billion dollars, as much as 5 times the total revenue generated the year before. Based off those numbers economists calculated that if every person who downloaded a pirated song or movie over the past ten years was forced to pay back the amount they owed to the movie and recording industry then those industries would stand to make $2.5 trillion dollars, or in other words enough to pay off the entire national debt of the United States and then some. Numerous commentators wondered whether the Washington Post was just pulling that number out of their ass.
Australia would have been guilty of infringing upon the copyright of it's unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Fortunately the Australian Government being the upstanding world citizens that they are paid royalties to Carl Fisher Music, a US company that had falsely claimed the copyright of the song in the United States. Thus they avoided what could have been an embarrasing incident of refusing to pay money to a bunch of thieves who had no right to copyright a song which is so important to Australian culture and heritage that they had no part in writing or creating nor had they legally purchased the copyright from it's original owners.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers every time a person's mobile phone musical ringtone rings they are committing copyright infringement. They issued a lawsuit in an American court that would force each person to pay a fine every time their phone rang aloud, meaning people would have to set their phones to silent. The move sparked a massive run on the copyright office as people attempted to copyright numerous every day words in an attempt to make a quick buck. They were turned away when the commissioner of copyright law told them they were idiots, just like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
The fight against copyright infringement
One of the earliest significant sources of copyright infringement on the internet was the music sharing site Napster. The RIAA decided that they needed to raise the awareness of illegal filesharing in order to convince people not to do it, so they filed a lawsuit against Napster in December 1999. To their great delight the court trial brought a great amount of interest to the site, which started recording increasing numbers of users. The user base increased from under a million users at the time the lawsuit was filed to peak at 26.4 million users in February 2001. The RIAA won the lawsuit and the site was removed and then shut down over the months of August and September 2001. The RIAA declared a great victory and expected that everyone who had become accustomed to downloading free music would learn their lesson that the big corporations always win and make sure to tell their friends about it. A great number of people did tell their friends about it, but they forgot to mention the fact that the big corporations always win. This had the unfortunate side effect of making illegal file sharing even more widespread. But at least the RIAA won the moral victory.
As the decade wore on numerous industry groups found that the RIAA's initial attempts at raising the profile of piracy in order to convince people not to do so were beginning to lose their effectiveness. So in May of 2006 the Motion Picture Association of America was able to successfully convince the police of Sweden to conduct a raid upon a website known as The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay was a website that indexed torrent files, that is they provided indexes to them (but they didn't actually host them). Some legal experts had argued that providing torrent indexes isn't illegal as they are not actually providing any copyrighted material, they are only showing where it is. Fortunately the MPAA decided to ignore this advice and go after the site in an attempt to raise awareness of piracy rather than looking at and changing their own outdated business models to take advantage of file sharing. The raid was conducted on the 31st of May 2006 and was immediately hailed as a huge success. It was considered as such as directly after the raid the number of Pirate Bay user grew from 1 million to 2.7 million. Even better results occured in the number of peers which grew from 2.5 million to over 12 million. Huge crowds of Swedish people turned out to support the raid and it's attempt to create advertising for the website.
The great success of The Pirate Bay raid was capitalised upon a few years later by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The trial started in the middle of February 2009 and lasted for 9 days. The trial was marked by controversy including one incident in which opponents of file sharing attempted to drown one of the defense witnesses (professor emeritus Roger Wallis) along with his wife. Roger Wallis had been asked by the Swedish Defense of Marriage Amendment if he wished for any compensation for appearing court. He declined but said that the court could send flowers to his wife if they wished to. The judge rejected this but word of it spread quickly via internet feeds and blogs. Numerous IFPI supporters set up an IRC channel in which they arranged for huge numbers of flowers to be delivered to Roger Wallis' house in order to drown both him and his wife. This event was widely misreported as support for The Pirate Bay. The results of the trial led to prison terms and huge fines for the defendants, but better yet it created a huge interest in copyright infringement. In the ten days after the verdict over 25,000 people in Sweden joined the Pirate Party, a political party dedicated to making copyright infringement legal, bringing it's membership to over 40,000 members and turning it into the fourth largest Swedish party at the time. The IFPI hoped that all of these people will eventually decide to stop supporting copyright infringement for some reason.