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Online Piracy: Warez the harm?

Date & Time:
17:00:00 - 18:30:00,
Tuesday 11 February, 2003


Warez sites are locations from which it is possible to distribute unauthorised copies of software programs, music and video files. They also provide password information to circumvent copy-protected content or pay-per-view sites. With all the opportunities for legitimate online commerce, comes this inevitable ‘black market’ in digital works.

The financial value of this market is enormous, though probably incalculable. Some historical indication of its scale may be inferred from OECD estimates of the size of the world market for counterfeit goods generally, which suggested a figure of 7% of global GDP. One Internet based measure, using the search term ‘Warez’ for a search on Google, reveals 24,600,000 sites. Operators of Warez sites range from schoolchildren to well-organised commercial enterprises. The legal and ethical context for this activity is complex.

Arguments are made that existing laws are overly protective of the rights of copyright owners. The extent to which rightholders should be able to control downstream reproduction and distribution of their works once they have entered the marketplace is a matter of considerable, acrimonious debate. Counterfeiting and ‘bootlegging’ of music, movies and software has been around for a long time and does not shock the public. The conspicuous wealth of music, movie and software enterprises leads to a view that this is a victimless crime. Rightholders, on the other hand, point out that whereas old-fashioned counterfeits were imperfect copies of original products, digital works can be copied indefinitely with no loss of content or quality. Diverting their expected profits into this risk-free black economy deprives creative industries of funds for investment in new works and new artists.

This seminar will attempt to describe the main features of the Warez marketplace, and will review some of the steps used by the rightholder and Internet Service Provider communities to respond to it.

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  • Peter Davies
  • Name: Peter Davies
  • Affiliation: Visiting Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute
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