U.S. authorities have launched an education campaign to curb illegal copying of movies, music, and computer software. The campaign expands a program that the Federal Bureau of Investigation began in the 1970s.
Viewers of feature movies on videocassette are long familiar with an FBI warning against unauthorized copying.
That warning is being updated and made available for DVDs, music, software and computer games. Many Internet downloads will now also include a version, complete with the FBI seal. The text warns that it is illegal to reproduce or distribute copyrighted material, and infringements are punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Keith Kupferschmid, of the Software and Information Industry Association, says the crime is not victimless, and the new warning conveys that. "U.S. software companies lose approximately $12 billion a year due to piracy. A software program that reflects unprecedented technology, years of effort, and millions of development dollars can now be duplicated in seconds with the touch of a button."
FBI officials say that, combined, U.S. producers of movies, music, computer games and software lost $23 billion last year to illegally copying.
Ken Jacobsen of the Motion Picture Association of America says entertainment is a $30 billion industry in the United States, and is the country's number one export.
Investigators have uncovered recent cases of industry insiders providing copies of films for illegal duplication. Authorities say that, more often, people with small camcorders tape films in theaters, and then digitize them for reproduction in Asia or Eastern Europe.
The music industry is also hard-hit by piracy, says Brad Buckles of the Recording Industry Association of America. He says the industry lost $4.6 billion to pirates last year, and legitimate sales are dropping.
"Our numbers have shown we've had a 31 percent drop in units being shipped by record companies over the last three years," he said. "It's had a dramatic impact, even though everybody thinks that one individual download or sharing that they do doesn't have much consequence. But the cumulative affect has a tremendous impact."
The Motion Picture Association's Ken Jacobsen says the warning is not aimed at major distributors of pirated products. He says they already know they're breaking the law, and the FBI is active in prosecuting them. He says the warning instead creates an awareness of the problem among the general public.
"It allows the average citizen who rents movies or movies or software or games to understand what is correct activity and what is incorrect activity," he said. "They need to understand that there is a law involved and that law is very important, and they should abide by it."
Jana Monroe, assistant director for the FBI's Cyber Division, says piracy is theft and the bureau takes it seriously. She says piracy of intellectual property is now the agency's number three priority, after terrorism and counter-intelligence.