Biopiracy, like the term "bioprospecting", is an unofficial but increasingly common term today. This is not piracy on the highways or high seas, but is the aggressive and unethical taking of natural and intellectual resources for great profit without compensating those who own the resources and intellectual property.
In many ways, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that have historically simply taken what they wanted, to great profit and by giving little or no compensation are now considered to be biopirates.
There are also increasing cases of human tissue that is taken without the patient's knowledge or approval, let alone royalties or compensation for tissue that is reproduced and that creates profit on a perpetual basis. Public outrage is rising over the idea of the human source not only being denied a share of the profits, but being charged for the extraction procedures and left in poverty or debt.
In many places, botanicals, animals and natural substances are taken without even reasonable compensation for their use in relation to the profits that they eventually generate. This is why royalties were developed as a method of paying the source if there is a continuing profit.
Many developing countries and some groups are taking measures to put a stop to such inequity in gaining wealth without compensating the source. In developing countries, intellectual property in the form of indigenous, undocumented and previously rejected or ridiculed knowledge is taken without compensation.
Measures are being developed to allow some form of copyrighting or patenting of ideas and processes. Indigenous knowledge is priceless, as it involves knowledge that is passed down through generations concerning natural and botanical healing, nutrition, poisons and textile processes and substances.
In other words, indigenous knowledge is scientific knowledge that is vaster and covers more time and experimentation than the common drug trials that are conducted by commercial firms. Indigenous knowledge is confusing and complex, as it includes myth, superstition, linguistic complexities, secrecy and protections from enemies or thieves that have also developed over time.
Biopiracy has come in many forms since the intrusions of one people into the lives and lands of other people. When societies were conquered, their property and knowledge were conquered, too.
But the western world went farther to eradicate much of nature, people, and indigenous knowledge while attempting to replace it with western knowledge, people and ideas about controlling nature.
Now, the developed countries have begun to understand that such gross measures as deforestation, desertification, ethnic cleansing and forced human evictions during recent decades of biopiracy have been far more costly and destructive than imagined. Knowledge was lost because it was not considered to be valuable or desireable.
Much needs to be done to properly compensate people and countries for their valuable intellectual and botanical property and to properly compensate humans for their biological assets. In the future, developing countries and individuals will hopefully be able to end biopiracy and to get compensation and recognition for the use of their most valuable assets which include knowledge, intellectual property, habitat and natural substances.