As I’m sure many others born in the late nineties can relate to, some of my fondest childhood memories involve trips to the local video store to rent the newest movies on DVD. Likewise, I’m sure you’re all equally familiar with the anti-piracy ad that played before each and every one. Piracy: we know it’s a crime, but why? How is downloading a movie from the internet comparable to stealing a car, or a handbag, or a television?
It all comes down to the concepts of intellectual property and copyright. Intellectual property refers to intangible property produced by an individual or group, including “creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols“. Copyright, on the other hand, “protects the expression of an idea [and, hence] encourages people to ‘create’“. Without copyright to protect the ideas of creators and producers, we likely wouldn’t have the great contemporary music, movies, artworks and other media we often take for granted, as these individuals and groups would have no claim to their work.
Prior to the implementation of intellectual property and copyright law, these ideas and creations were considered to be a part of the public domain, that is, “the status of a literary work or an invention whose copyright or patent has expired or that never had such protection“. However, in modern society, copyright restrictions can extend well beyond a hundred years, allowing the original creator the exclusive use of their products over the course of their lifetime. In the United States, works created from 1978 onwards are protected under copyright for the remaining duration of the author’s life plus an additional seventy years.