Software Theft

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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Even as agencies like the SIIA work to locate and penalize copyright violators, regular advancements in digital technology make software piracy an increasingly common crime. As with all types of intellectual property theft, copyrighted software can be violated in several ways. While most of these violations are committed with fraudulent intent, they can also occur due to simple ignorance of copyright law. Regardless of the situation, software theft can result in serious repercussions for the perpetrator.

According to the anti-piracy division of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), a software copyright watchdog organization, there are distinct categories of computer software theft. The most prevalent kind of software copyright violation is known as "soft-lifting." All software comes with a license agreement, which is a contract detailing how it can be accessed by the user. For example, most store bought programs sold to private individuals are licensed for a single use. This means the software can be installed, accessed and run from one terminal only. However, after purchasing a program, many users aren't aware that if they install the program on multiple computers, or lend it to someone else for installation on their system, they are soft-lifting, making them guilty of software theft.

Corporate Software Theft

The most extensive violations of software license agreements are usually committed by large businesses. Large organizations usually run software from their main server, which connects all company computers together as a network. When a company buys software, it does so according to a license agreement, which details how the program can be installed on their network. In order for a company to make a program accessible to the entire network, it must first purchase a license agreement that authorizes access from multiple users. Some organizations try to save money by only using a store bought copy of a program, containing a single use license, yet still allowing unrestricted access to the software.

While soft-lifting and unrestricted access illustrate end user violations, software theft is also committed on a more larcenous scale. Bootleg programs have long been copied and distributed by software counterfeiters, who sell the unlicensed replica discs at trade shows and online auctions, sometimes attempting to pass the copies off as legitimate. CD-R software piracy is similar to software counterfeiting, except that no one tries to pass the bootleg programs off as the genuine article. As a result, CD-R bootlegs sell for even less than counterfeit programs, enabling more people to afford them. By reducing demand for the official version of a program by flooding the market with low priced copies, CD-R piracy diminishes manufacturer profits, resulting in higher prices for people who purchase the program legitimately.

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