Intellectual Property Rights and their Protection and Defense by Businesses

The Debate over IPR

In recent years, intellectual property rights (IPR) have become the topic of intense discussion and concerted efforts by businesses to defend them. The reason for this renewed interest and vigorous protection and defense of IPR is that the theft and piracy of items like software, books, games, and movies has reached unprecedented levels that are threatening the very existence of the industries as they see a drop in revenues that is substantial and makes a difference to their survival.

The menace of software and other digital piracy began in the 1990s parallel to the development of these industries as the consumers in the developing world (especially China and to a smaller extent, India) could not afford the high prices of the digital items resulting in them buying pirated copies of the digital items.

Indeed, estimates show that almost 40% of all software and digital items in circulation in China are pirated which reveals the extent to which the menace is affecting the industries. Further, it has been shown that software is the biggest of the pirated items and therefore, there have been concerted efforts made by the software industry to combat the menace of piracy.

The Reasons for Piracy and Some Solutions

The economic reasons that contribute to piracy are the high cost of the original items. Apart from the economic reasons, the fact that many digital items are not available in the emerging markets easily is another reason for the piracy.

Of course, nothing justifies the illegal and unauthorized distribution of digital items and therefore, it is clear that the solutions to the issue of piracy and the protection of IPR must come from all stakeholders.

A possible solution would be to price the software and other digital items inexpensively which would reduce the incentives for the pirates and increase the incentives for the users to buy authentic software.

Another solution would be to offer discounts to the emerging market consumers who otherwise would not be able to afford the high cost of the items. However, this has not really found favor with software biggies like Microsoft who contend that they spend large amounts of money in research and development of the software and hence, must recoup some of their costs. They have instead found a way to offer discounts for students and homebuyers who are traditionally the ones most susceptible to buying pirated software.

The Industry’s Viewpoint and the Response

The key issue at stake in the defense of IPR is that when a company makes or manufactures an item, they are entitled to the sales of the item and the menace of piracy takes away their due from the proceeds. This is the reason why many companies fight tooth and nail to defend their IPR.

Further, in recent months, there have been concerted efforts by the companies in tandem with the law enforcement agencies to shut down the file sharing sites that are the hub of pirated digital items. This has resulted in cases being filed against the sites like Megaupload whose founder, Kim Dotcom had to spend a lot of time in prison.

However, the pirates are always one-step ahead and this has frustrated the efforts of the companies and the law enforcement agencies in their fight against piracy. The key point here is that the defense of IPR has put the spotlight back on the ethical imperatives as well as the larger questions of who owns the copyright of digital items that many contend must be open source and freely available to the users.

Apart from this, the fact that it is human nature to get something free as opposed to paying for it even though the price might be less is another facet of the issue of the defense of IPR.

Concluding Remarks

Finally, it must be noted that it is high time for the governments or at least the courts to step in and resolve the knotty issue of IPR as otherwise; we risk the loss of valuable contributions made by several pioneers to bring us the software that we use in our everyday lives.

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