Digital piracy — the illegal download or distribution of copyrighted digital content — continues to be on the rise. A recent report from research firm Muso found that illegal film streaming increased nearly 39% between 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, website traffic for pirated television content rose by almost 9% over the same period.
This nefarious practice poses a serious threat to creative industries and the innovation economy writ large. After all, copyrights — and other intellectual property rights — provide creators with the incentives needed to pursue bold concepts and push the boundaries of innovation. This not only fosters a more diverse cultural landscape but also drives economic growth and job opportunities.
Digital piracy throws the entire creative ecosystem into disarray. As more people access and share copyrighted material without paying for it, creators cannot be fairly compensated for their work and they cannot afford to pursue creative endeavors. The losses incurred are staggering and economically disruptive. Indeed, it’s estimated that the United States loses nearly $30 billion — and as many as 560,000 jobs — each year to film and television piracy alone.
The proliferation of digital piracy also presents serious risks for consumers. Pirated content is rife with security threats, like malware, that can infect an individual’s devices and compromise their personal data. Indeed, in a consumer alert, the Federal Trade Commission warned that downloading illegal pirated content — on websites or apps — greatly increases the risk of downloading malware that hackers can use to steal credit card numbers and sensitive log-in information.
Industry and government stakeholders alike must work together to safeguard the intellectual property rights of creators and ensure that consumers have access to high-quality content without exposure to malware. There are several steps that can — and should — be taken in pursuit of this aim.
First, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) can limit piracy abroad by improving the enforcement of existing trade agreements. For instance, Mexico must protect against piracy under the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), but inadequate enforcement allows the practice to run rampant in that country.
Second, U.S. law enforcement agencies have the ability to prosecute criminal organizations involved in digital piracy and take down websites facilitating illegal downloads. At the same time, the television and film industries — along with the government — should strive to increase awareness among consumers about avoiding and reporting pirated content.
Absent these efforts, digital piracy will continue to undermine incentives for innovators to create valued cultural works, as well as the protections necessary for safe consumption of those works.