Software Piracy

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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Software piracy is a type of copyright infringement that occurs when computer programs are copied, sold, traded, or accessed without the consent of the software manufacturer. There are many forms of computer piracy, ranging from corporate software license violations, to the use of illegally downloaded serial numbers to hack unregistered applications, to the widespread production and distribution of bootleg software. In recent years, easy access to technology like CD burners and peer-to-peer file sharing hubs has dramatically increased the prevalence of unlicensed software use.

All computer software comes with a license that essentially acts as a contract between the manufacturer and the user. The software license details the exact conditions under which the software can be used. These conditions cover the number of locations the program may be installed in, and the number of users who are permitted simultaneous access. Software is an intellectual property, and its value is based on use, rather than on the physical disc containing the data. Licenses are written and sold according to the number of users who will be permitted to access the software simultaneously. This is done to prevent an organization from allowing multiple employees to operate programs that were only purchased for a single user.

In 2004, software publishers worldwide lost over 13 billion dollars due to pirated software. While the majority of software piracy takes place in China and Korea, 25 percent of cases occur in the United States. The consequences of software piracy are often just as heavy for law-abiding consumers as they are for the vendors. When software manufacturers lose profits due to piracy, they lack the funds to develop better products. Piracy diminishes market demand, without reducing the manufactures supply. This can result in higher pricing for popular applications.

Anti-Software Piracy Groups

In response top the global increase in copyright violations, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) has formed an anti-piracy division dedicated to the elimination of software theft. In order to promote public awareness about the consequences of software piracy, the SIIA has compiled a list detailing a variety of copyright violations that can be grouped under the term "software piracy." While some of these situations entail blatant theft, some of the other scenarios describe possible unintentional violations. However, whether malicious, or simply misinformed, software copyright infringers can face serious penalties if caught.

According to the SIIA, the most common occurrences of piracy-related copyright infringement include everything from the sale and distribution of counterfeit software, to the multiple PC installation of programs containing only a single-user license. "Soft-lifting" refers to the practice of installing a single licensed copy of a program on more than one computer, even for home use. It can also include sharing of single license programs between friends or co-workers. Soft-lifting is the most widespread type of software piracy, as many perpetrators are unaware that they're even violating their license agreements.

The second most prevalent example software piracy occurs when an organization provides unrestricted network access to copyrighted software, in excess of the amount stipulated in their license. When a company buys a computer program from a vendor, they purchase a license that permits a certain number of employees to simultaneously access that program. The price of the software is then based on how many people will be using it. Some companies try to save money by purchasing store bought copies of software with only a single-user license, then installing it on their server for the whole organization to access.

Software counterfeiting is another popular method of piracy. This occurs when unauthorized parties create bootleg copies of copyrighted programs, and attempt to sell them by passing them off as the real thing. Counterfeiters attempt to avoid detection by taking advantage of the many "disposable" sales venues available today. Bogus software is available everywhere online, from Internet auction sites, to small, nameless online stores. However, the largest markets for bootleg software are computer trade shows. At these events, bootleggers can set up a booth and spend all day selling illegal copies of popular programs, before moving on to the next town to repeat the process.

The SIIA has released a set of guidelines for consumers who suspect a vendor is not selling legitimate copies of a program. According to these guidelines, bootleg software usually lacks the proper documentation, warranty information, and even packaging. If the bootlegs do include a manual, it might be a cheap photocopied version. Counterfeiters also frequently print the serial number needed to activate the program directly on the CD or its sleeve. Serial numbers are never openly displayed on an official program's packaging, as it would defeat the entire purpose of concealing the serial number from the general public. In addition, if a disc is suspiciously low-priced for the program it contains, or if a CD-ROM features multiple applications from different vendors, it is most likely an illegal bootleg copy.

CD-R piracy is almost identical to software bootlegging, except there is no attempt to pass the pirated software off as the real thing. While bootleggers copy software for profit, CD-R software piracy generally entails friends illegally copying software from each other. The popularity and affordability of recordable CD drives has caused a dramatic increase in CD-R piracy, making illegal copies of programs available to a wider audience. The free distribution of copyrighted commercial software via CD-ROM piracy is rivaled only by Internet software piracy. This type of software piracy revolves around "warez" sites, which are websites that enable visitors to download copies of popular applications. Both CD-R and warez piracy pose an additional threat to software manufacturers. "Crackers," illegal software enthusiasts who specialize in making piracy-protected software fully functional, often release CD-R and warez copies of programs, known as "crackz." Crackz are identical to the original programs, except all of their limitations and security measures have been removed. This results in an illegal duplicate that is actually more convenient then the real product, which can attract consumers who would otherwise not be tempted to use pirated software.


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