Internet piracy is the unlawful reproduction and/or distribution of any copyrighted digital file that can change hands over the Internet. This can be done with music files, videos and movies, e-books, software, and other materials. Those who engage in this type of piracy can often conduct their entire operation on the Internet, including advertising and sales. It has become a worldwide crime problem, because of the relative ease with which it can be committed, even over long distances.
One of the first types of files that were pirated in a widespread way were digital music files, often known as MP3s, because of the .mp3 file extension they carry. Several very popular file sharing programs were developed beginning in the 1990s that facilitated the transfer of these types of files, both legitimate and pirated. These file sharing programs have been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, then and since, because many people have used them to obtain copyrighted video and music without paying for it.
Although the laws of different countries on downloading and distribution of digital files may vary slightly, obtaining music and movies through Internet piracy are illegal in most countries.
Piracy involving software is quite common, and very difficult to stop, as are other kinds of piracy. It is even possible for a consumer to purchase a pirated software program without realizing that it was produced illegally. It is very easy for those engaging in this practice to set up a seemingly legitimate Web page, from which to advertise and sell illegally produced software.
Internet-based commerce can allow basically anyone to conduct business with anonymity and in large volume. Unlike with physical products, there is no need to maintain an inventory of digital files, since they can be reproduced and sold quickly. It is partly because of this convenience that so many software pirates exist. If they are found out or are under suspicion, they can disappear almost instantly, leaving no contact information or any trace of their activities, except a long line of cheated and dissatisfied customers who can't get their money back.
One way that consumers can avoid unintentionally purchasing counterfeit or pirated software is to do so at a retail location or from a website they know they can trust, such as the one run by the software publisher. In these cases, the software will almost always come with a certificate of authenticity. It will also be easy to contact the publisher in the event of any problems in shipping or the operation of the software.