Intellectual Property Theft, Explained

Since the beginning of civilization, theft has been an issue society has had to deal with and attempt to control. With the rise of technology, theft has not necessarily decreased—rather, the types of items that are being targeted have shifted, from tangible objects to more abstract ideas. Intellectual Property theft, which refers to the illegal use of anything from trademarks to ideas, from music to software, is on the rise.

Who Steals Intellectual Property?

With the amount of intellectual property on the internet today, it’s no wonder that theft of it is on the rise. But who, specifically, is responsible for these crimes?

1. Hackers

This is probably who you would most often think of as swiping information from other businesses or people. Hackers have the ability to break through firewalls and into the precious resource stores of others.

Hackers may be hired or the may have their own motivations. Regardless, more often than not there is a financial gain in mind.

Hackers are typically the most high-tech intellectual property thieves. In fact, many have been trained in this very field—imagine, a field for thievery!

2. Would-be consumers

This is common among digitally pirated music. Typically, hackers will be responsible for originally procuring the music or films from production companies, but everyday citizens may download online to listen or watch for free, rather than pay the money to receive the copyrighted material.

This industry was particularly large with services created specifically for it, such as Napster or Limewire. Later, with the rise of BitTorrent, other sites cropped up to accomplish the task. Perhaps the most notable might be The Pirate Bay.

3. A company’s own employees

When it comes to innovative trade secrets, companies work hard to ensure this information remains in-house. But what if an employee could make significant financial gains if he or she took these secrets outside of the company and sold them to a competitor?

Everyday, reasonable people are convicted of crimes such as these more often than you would believe. This just goes to show how the temptation of financial gain can cloud one’s judgment.

How do People Steal Intellectual Property?

As stated above, would-be consumers steal intellectual property by downloading it online. A company’s employees steal their trade secrets right under their nose, as they have close access to where the secrets lie. So, how do hackers get the information they procure?

When companies don’t put adequate security measures on their online data stores, hackers have the ability to use their expertise to break into encrypted areas and steal massive amounts of valuable information.

What are Punishments for Intellectual Property Theft?

We’ve established how serious intellectual property theft can be. Naturally, punishments for crimes of this nature fit the seriousness of the crimes.

  • For pirated movies and music, typically, large fines of thousands of dollars are issued. In extreme or repeated cases, jail time may also be involved.
  • For the theft of large trade secrets, jail time is an almost certainty. This is particularly distressing—in the same way that otherwise-decent citizens are guilty of stealing intellectual property from the companies they work for, sadly, they also are forced to suffer the consequences.

Fifty years ago, the world could not have fathomed the concept of intellectual property to the extent we know it today, much less the serious consequences its crimes can have. Today, though it is still a large issue, measures are in place to minimize it as much as possible.