Software Piracy: A Big Crime With Big Consequences
Imaging for a moment that you come across an advertisement
saying you can meet up with an individual who will break into a
store, disarm all of the alarms and will hold the door open for
you as you walk inside and take anything you wish. This criminal
offence occurs every day on computer systems around the world
including the internet. This is a very serious problem and is
very difficult to circumvent. Every computer user is both
tempted and immersed in software piracy in its many forms. One
of the most disturbing facts behind this crime is that many
people who participate in the distribution of commercial software
don't even know they are committing a crime. Software piracy is
a very serious and widespread crime that must be acknowledged and
Software piracy is the unauthorized duplication and or
distribution of copyrighted programs. There are two ways to be
involved in software piracy. The first is facilitation.
Facilitation is the deliberate copying of copyrighted software
and distributing it. An example would be an MIT student named
David LaMacchia. This individual served and maintained a
computer that was connected to the internet that offered it's
users more than one million dollars worth of software 'free of
charge.' Mr. LaMacchia was caught by the authorities and was
acquitted of this piracy due to the lack of legal standards for
this crime. Another example is off local bulletin board systems.
Many are run out of the offenders homes with just a phone line, a
computer and a modem. Here members of this service can send and
receive pirated software (otherwise known as 'warez') as their
own pace and leisure. There are not just one or two of these
bulletin boards around there are in fact many. Most reside in
large cities and the offenders are in most cases minors. As the
computer gains a more stable hold on our society these bulletin
boards are replaced by the ones that are linked to the internet.
By this individuals can anonymously put out copyrighted software
for the use of any anonymous user of the internet such as the
type of system that Mr. LaMacchia ran. The second way to be
involved in software piracy is to be on the receiving end. These
individuals can be anyone. All they need is a computer and
access to a computer. In this an individual willingly breaks
copyright law and retrieves by whatever means copyrighted
software. In effect this individual steals the software for
their use. Again in this case the offenders are usually minors.
Keep in mind that is it not only minors that are committing acts
of software piracy, many adults and especially companies and
corporations still pirate software but they do so at a very
There are many ways that an individual can commit software
piracy. Six different methods are of the most evident ways to
pirate software. The first and most common method of software
piracy is called 'End User Copying' or 'softlifting.' This type
of piracy is the out right copying of a program and giving it to
a friend or a colleague. An example of this is an individual
just bought a brand new computer game from the store. They liked
it so much that they made a copy and gave it to a friend. The
second form of piracy is what is referred to as hard disk
loading. This is where a computer dealer or company copy and load
unauthorized copies of software onto the hard disks or the main
storage facility on the computer they will sell. This is a more
commercial aspect of software piracy and many of these companies
use this as an incentive to sell their machines by making more
software for the machine available to the customer. The third
method is becoming more popular as many more people are getting
connected to the internet. This is the downloading or sending
copyrighted/illegal software via a modem to a public or private
bulletin board system or the internet. This type of piracy is
usually at no charge to the end user and is usually open to many
people. The fourth type of software piracy is known as
counterfeiting. This is the illegal duplication and sale of
copyrighted/illegal software. This can be a very complex and
sophisticated way of piracy. This can include a relatively
significant effort to duplicate the original packaging, logos and
other anti-counterfeiting techniques such as holograms. This
type of piracy can also be very unsophisticated by the copying of
the software and placing different of different labels on the
copied media and then just blatantly selling it to whomever they
choose. This is not just the distributing of pirated software
this is the selling of the software with a motive for undue
profit. The fifth method of software piracy is over computer
networks. A network is a series of computers physically linked
to one or more main computers called servers. Each server stores
the software for all the computers it serves. Each time a
computer accesses the server for a program it copies the program
on to the local computer for use. This in itself is legal but
the owner of the network must have licenses for each copy of a
program that is being used otherwise this is copyright
infringement. The sixth and final type of software piracy is
known as 'Software Rental.' This is where software is "rented"
to individuals who typically copy the software to their
individual computers and return the original rented piece of
software to the renter. This method of piracy is not as common
as the rest due the nature of the distribution but it does exist.
The Software Publishers Association (S.P.A.) have sued the owner
of a store located in Winnipeg called 'Microplay' for the renting
of software to its customers. This type of piracy does exists
but it is usually halted soon after it starts. These are the
many ways that software piracy can be and is committed. Even
though there are many more methods of piracy, these six are the
of the most evident and can be dealt with.
If software piracy is a crime why do people do it? Well
there are many reasons why individuals commit software piracy.
On the whole many otherwise good citizens are not aware of the
crime that they are committing. Weather it is just careless
ignorance or the lack of awareness to the law these people are
committing a crime and may not be aware of it.
"I am motivated by the belief that some
capitalist pig create the goods therein, and
thus they should be free to the people." (Laberis)
This interpretation is the most common especially among minors.
As the quote suggests many believe that major software moguls
such as Bill Gates (the owner and founder of Microsoft) already
have more money than they need so it is alright to steal from
them as 'they do not need the money' or they believe that their
single actions can not hurt. For this many 'software pirates' do
not believe that what they are doing is wrong. Another reason is
for shear greed. Either they do not have the ability to pay for
the software they use or they do not feel that they should. As
was stated earlier minors are the most likely to commit software
piracy. Many do so to the challenge the law and for rebellion as
glorified with the rumours and stories of 'hackers.' On the
technical side software piracy is relatively easy to commit. All
one needs is a computer and some type of removable means of
storage such as diskettes or CD-ROM's. It takes seconds to
transfer data which takes care of the time problem. Also unlike
the copying of audio of video cassettes there is not quality loss
in the copied product. When an individual copies a piece of
software they copy an exact duplicate of the software all the
features that the copied software contains with absolutely no
quality loss therefore making it an attractive means of both
acquiring and distributing illegal software.
There are to consequences to software piracy. Piracy not
only hurts business but it hurts the legal owners of software.
By stealing software the creators of the software cannot recover
their losses nor can they make their program better.
"Piracy harms all software publishers, regardless
of their size. Software publishers spend years
developing software for the public to use. A portion
of every dollar spent in purchasing the original
software funnelled back into research and development
so that better, more advanced software products can be
produced. When you purchase pirated software your
money goes directly into the pockets of the pirates
This excerpt is from a booklet released by the Microsoft
corporation and is about software licensing and piracy. This
excerpt accurately displays the truth. Not only is the offender
hurt by pirating but every that has legally purchased the product
is being affected as well. By pirating software you do not get
the support that would normally come with a program. Nor do you
get the manuals that explain the proper use of the program. But
the consequences can be also legally severe. An organization
called the Software Publisher's Association (S.P.A.) has devoted
their time to cracking down software piracy commercially and on
the internet. The S.P.A. is the leader in software piracy
prosecution. They organization campaigns for individuals to
report piracy to them and then on behalf of the companies that
are affected the S.P.A. takes legal action against those they see
that are committing a gross violation of the copyright laws. One
such business was a company in Winnipeg called Microplay. As I
mentioned before the S.P.A. on behalf of its members sued the
owner and proprietor of Microplay for the rental of software to
its members. As of yet a settlement has not been reached. This
is just one action of many that the S.P.A. spearheads. Don't
think that major companies and business are affected by the
crackdown on software piracy. The fact on Canadian copyright law
infringement is not specific to software piracy. This is very
dangerous because the first incident of piracy that is taken to
Canadian law courts has the potential to be acquitted such as the
case of David LaMacchia in the United States. Since the
LaMacchia incident the United States have set down harsh and
binding consequences to software piracy. A first offence can
call for at least five years of imprisonment and/or a two hundred
thousand dollar fine. And that is just for the first offence!
If you are convicted as a facilitator or have been convicted for
software piracy in the past you can face up to ten years in
prison and/or fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars per convicted infringement. Canada is expected to adopt
somewhat similar consequences in the near future. Stiff
penalties will not stop all piracy but it is a start and with
harsh prosecution of infringements and high consequences piracy
can hopefully be curbed on the small scale.
There are ways to prevent being caught with pirated
software. First of all buy software from reputable dealers only.
The less reputable the dealer the less chance of the product
being legitimate. Do some research on the product you are about
to buy. Not only will it save money from buying useless products
but it will inform of what types of things to expect with the
package. Third make sure that the product had some type of copy
protection weather it be a registration number or some type of
anti-piracy logo or hologram. Plus make sure all software came
with a set of licensing documents. These documents outline the
proper usage of the product and warranty information. Then make
sure that once the software has been purchased that it has been
registered with the company that created it. Buy doing this
technical support, updates and discounts on other programs can be
attained with out any problems or hassle.
Software piracy is a fact of life. It is a crime that
occurs at every second of the day and in every country in the
world. By ignoring copyright law, intellectual property is being
misused. By ignoring the problem it can only get worse. The two
greatest ways to defeat software piracy is by education and
prosecution. By educating the masses in a time of computer
globalization assurance of knowledge about software piracy will
increase and ignorance will hopefully be abated. Frank Clegg
(Director for Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft) said it
best, "stealing software is like stealing anything else. It is
"To Copy Or Not To Copy." http://www.spa.org/piracy/okay.htm.
October 12, 1996.
"Copyright Protection Campaign."
http://www.spa.org/piracy/pi_back.htm. October 12,
Laberis, Bill. "A Crime That Pays." Computerworld. 29.2 (1995):
Microsoft. "Microsoft Licensing Policies: Answers to Frequently
Asked Questions." Microsoft Corporation, 1996.
"The Piracy Problem." Computing Canada. 21.12 (1995): 12.
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