What is Online Piracy and How to Prevent it

  • By Greg Brown
  • Mar 27, 2023

online piracy

The amount of content reaching the Internet every day is staggering. Digital data is created at around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Still confused? Daily, one billion Gigabytes of data are created for us to consume. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of data up for grabs.

In its basic form, “online piracy is the illegal copying or distribution of copyrighted material” via the Internet. Online and digital piracy continues to evolve as boundaries are set. Privacy and racketeering can result in federal charges with severe penalties. However, these offenses are complicated in court because the United States and other countries are often involved with complex charges.


Online piracy has evolved into big business with lots of ill-gotten dollars. Pervasive forms of piracy include unauthorized software copying and internet auction sites for out-of-channel software. Counterfeiting is a common form of piracy, the illegal duplication or distribution of copyrighted material. It is common to find compact discs of copyrighted software, packaging, manuals, and labels.

If you think you are getting a bargain with that $55 copy of Office365, think again. There are hoards of pirates on the Internet that sell or copy anything and then resell the item as original, completely illegal. 

Interpol warns counterfeiting negatively impacts creative industries and government revenue streams. Counterfeiting puts consumers at risk of substantial financial loss. Security risks to consumers are opened up, including ID theft or inappropriate content for children. 

End User Piracy

Counterfeiting is not the only lucrative piracy game on the Internet. End User piracy occurs when predators reproduce software, music, video, and other properties without authorization and then resell it to unwitting consumers online.

For example, you see an ad on one of your favorite sites offering over 6500 channels, plus a 3000 video library for $100 per year. These tempting offers are stolen from legitimate pay-TV operators with paying customers. These unbelievable deals are accessed through apps on smart TVs and iPad. Legitimate TV providers estimate billions are lost each year which drives up prices.

In online Platforms such as Microsoft Office, customers are given licenses for the type of product and how many employees can legally connect. When purchasing an enterprise solution with Office365, executives purchase the core and then 250 licenses for department heads. It is expressly written; employees cannot swap or illegally connect to other copies under the same license outside premises and other conditions. 

End User piracy involves criminals reproducing content on the Internet and reselling it. 

  • Using a licensed copy of a software program to install the software on multiple computers. 
  • Making illegal copies of videos, music, and software for installation or distribution. Anyone selling those unbelievable deals or next-generation apps for unreal prices is a predator. 
  • With legitimate online offers comes a disclosure statement: This product has academic pricing. It is illegal to try and take advantage of these offers. Many illegal online products are acquired by misrepresenting their credentials and getting a lower price. 
  • Software acquired through the business says it is illegal to swap and then take the software outside the workplace.

Client Server-Overuse

Content on an enterprise level is sold to consumers with a policy that allows only so many employees to access resources. If too many employees connect at the same time, that is overuse. Small local area networks are notorious for overuse. 

Hard-Disk Loading

Hard-disk loading is when manufacturers or distributors overload hard disks with illegal content to make their machines more marketable. The practice has been commonplace since computers were invented.

Fighting Online Piracy

Copyrights and patents form the legal basis for fighting online piracy. Copyright infringement comes in many forms, including overuse, internet piracy, and torrent indexing sites. Software and other content piracy seem to be getting worse. In 2018, the Business Software Alliance estimated unlicensed products accounted for 37% of all software. BitTorrent accounted for 22% of global upload bandwidth in 2018. 

End-User agreements, copyrights, and patents are tools protecting an owner’s content. These documents define what a client can do with the content. Purchasers are considered users rather than owners; agreements spell out they cannot illegally copy or share the content.

Product keys and Obfuscation

Manufacturers, content originators, and producers are now installing sophisticated product keys and other forms of identification. The goal is to stop pirates from copying material that does not belong to them. Hardware-locked software keys are one of the more robust forms of security in that the key is based on the individual computer and its accessories.

Obfuscation is often used in conjunction with other forms of tamper-proofing. The technique makes a product’s source code unintelligible to humans. Algorithms are used to scramble characters and disguise them as something else or appear random. Obfuscation is weak in that hackers can, with enough time, find the source code. 

Forensic Watermarking

In the past, most people thought of Watermarking as a single piece of code embedded within the source code of a piece of art or visual content. Modern Forensic Watermarking looks to reinvent the Internet.

With modern technology, Forensic Watermarking allows for precise measurement and placement with complex algorithms: “an imperceptible mark can be made on any piece of outgoing content.” The mark can be set randomly for each product or on a schedule. Companies offer server-side distribution watermarking for high volumes of content, and the Cloud is used to integrate and support encoders.

Final Word

There will always be some form of piracy online, whether a stolen brush stroke, a familiar lyric, or a copied sentence. Large-volume predators and their consistent attacks are the real threat to copyrighted material. 

Success is happening in the way copyrighted material is being protected. Patents, product keys, and stronger forensic watermarking are having an impact. 

The real test is when owners of the material change their way of thinking on how they conduct their content business. Owners of the content must start to engage the worst side of publishing. Predators are going to continue to steal anything. When content can be resold for a commission, predators will be aggressive in the way they devise a scheme.

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