The Importance of Protecting Intellectual Property

Like many Americans of my generation, my first encounter with intellectual property piracy came with the band Metallica.  Metallica sued Napster over its unique file-sharing program that enabled users to share music with each other through the magic of the Internet.  Ultimately, Napster (in its free-for-all connotation) was shut down.  Napster’s demise unleashed the forces of creativity.  Services from Netflix to iTunes to Amazon and others now offers all of convenience of videos and music downloads, with none of the added burden of breaking copyright law.

Unfortunately, the illegal software game continues, and the international economy is being hung out to dry.  Over four out of every ten software programs installed on computers are unlicensed; either flat-out stolen or the 200th copy of a program licensed for only five computers.  The Business Software Alliance estimates that the total of this theft came to $51 billion in 2009, and that a global reduction of just 10 percent in global software piracy could yield over a half million new IT jobs and $140 billion in economic growth.  

According to an American Consumer Institute’s Consumer Pulse Survey, the American people are on board: 78% believe that intellectual property theft (including online piracy) hurts the American economy and 76% believe that patent protections, at least “somewhat”, encourage more innovation.  IN fact, even among those under-25s (i.e. those kids probably doing the most illegal downloading), the numbers remain positive with 55% believing that IP theft harms the U.S. economy, and 69% believing patent protections are good.
 
So protections are important for consumers, and supported by consumers.
 
The real problem is how to crack down on IP piracy, particularly in the online context.  The challenge to fighting online piracy is how to develop a balanced way to crack down on the pirates and illegal software use without having the government overreaching so far that it affects legal online and software activity. The preferred bipartisan strategy in Congress focuses on seizing foreign rogue Web sites that are illegally trafficking and stealing American intellectual property; a strategy that aims to protect American consumers and American jobs. This legislation’s full impact remains to be seen, but is palpable.

With American jobs and American economic growth are on the line, American consumers need some real innovation in the fight against piracy–so innovation can safely flourish in the marketplace.     

Zac Morgan currently attending George Mason University School of Law.

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