Software piracy is the failure of a licensed user to adhere to the
conditions of a software license or the unauthorized use or reproduction of
copyrighted software by a person or entity that has not been licensed to use the
software. Software piracy has become a household word and a household crime and
has had a great affect on the software industry. It is a problem that can only
be solved by the choices of each individual.
The computer software industry is one of the great business success
stories of recent history, with healthy increases in both hardware and software
sales around the world. However, software piracy threatens the industry’s
economic future. According to estimates by the U.S. Software Publisher’s
Association, as much as $7.5 billion of American software may be illegally
copied and distributed annually worldwide. These copies work as well as the
originals and sell for significantly less money. Piracy is relatively easy, and
only the largest rings of distributors are usually caught. In addition, software
pirates know that they are unlikely to serve hard jail time when prisons are
overcrowded with people convicted of more serious crimes. The software industry
loses more than $15.2 billion annually worldwide due to software piracy.
Software piracy costs the industry:
$482 every second
$28,900 every minute
$1.7 million every hour
$41.6 million every day
$291.5 million every week
To understand software piracy, one must get inside the mind of the
pirate. People, who wouldn’t think of sneaking merchandise out of a store or
robbing a house, regularly obtain copies of computer programs which they haven’t
paid for. The pirate has a set of excuses for his actions: prices are too high;
the company doesn’t provide decent support; he’s only going to use the program
once in a while. Although, what really makes software piracy seem less bad than
other kinds of theft is that nothing is physically taken. There is no immediate
effect on the inventory or productive capacity of the creator of a piece of
software if someone 500 miles away copies a disk and starts using it.
People tend to think of property as a material thing, and thus have a
hard time regarding a computer program as property. However, property is not a
concept pertaining to matter alone. Ownership is a concept which comes out of
the fact that people live by creating things of value for their own use or for
trade with others. Creation does not mean making matter, but rather changing the
form of matter alongwith an idea and a purpose. Most often, the actual cost of
creating goods is determined in the production of individual items. With
software, the reverse is true. The cost of producing copies is negligible
compared with the cost of constructing the form of the product.
In both cases, though, the only way a producer can benefit from offering
his product in trade, is for others to respect his right to it and to obtain it
only on his terms. If people are going to make the production of software a
fulltime occupation, they should expect a return for their efforts. If they do
not receive any benefit, they will have to switch to a different sort of
activity if they want to keep working.
The thief, though, will seldom be caught and punished; his particular
act of copying isn’t likely to push a software publisher over the edge. In most
cases, people can openly talk about their acts of piracy without suffering
criticism. However, there is a more basic deterrent to theft than the risk of
getting caught. A person can fake what he is to others, but not to himself. He
knows that he is depending on other people’s ignorance or willingness to pretend
they haven’t noticed. He may not feel guilty because of this, but he will always
feel helpless and out of control. If he attempts to rationalize his actions, he
becomes dependent on his own self-ignorance as well.
Thieves who abandon honesty often fall back on the idea of being smart.
They think it’s stupid to buy something when they can just take it. They know
that their own cleverness works only because of the stupidity of others who pay
for what they buy. The thieves are counting on the failure of the very people
whose successful efforts they use.
The best defense against software piracy lies neither in physical
barriers to copying nor in stiffer penalties. The main prevention to theft in
stores is not the presence of guards and magnetic detectors, but the fact that
most people have no desire to steal. The best way to stop piracy is to instill a
similar frame of mind among software users. This means breaking down the web of
excuses by which pirates justify their actions, and leaving them to recognize
what they are. Ultimately, this is the most important defense against any
violation of people’s rights; without an honest majority, no amount of effort by
the police will be effective.
In almost all countries of the world, there are statutes, criminal and
civil, which provides for enforcement of copyrighted software programs. The
criminal penalties range from fines to jail terms or both. Civil penalties may
reach as high as $100,000 per infringement. In many countries, companies as well
as individuals may face civil and criminal sanctions.
There are several different types of software piracy. Networking is
major cause to software piracy. Most licenses to software is written so that the
program can only be installed on one machine and can only be used on one machine
at a time, however, with some network methods, the program can be loaded on
several machines at once, therefore a violation of the agreement. On some
network applications, the speed of transporting the software back and forth is
too slow, and therefore, copying the program onto each machine would be so much
faster, and this could be a violation of the license agreement.
End-user Copying is a form of piracy when individuals within
organisations copy software programs from co-workers, friends and relatives.
This is the most prevalent form of software theft. Some refer to end user
copying as ‘disk swapping’.
Hard disk loading happens when unlicensed software is downloaded onto
computers that you buy. Generally you, as the customer will have an original
program on your hard drive that you may or may not have paid for. However, you
will not receive the accompanying disks or documentation and you will therefore
not be entitled to technical support or upgrades. This practice is often used as
a sales feature or an added incentive by the dealer to entice the sale.
Software rental is a form of piracy that takes place when an individual
rents a computer with software loaded on it or the software itself from a rental
shop or computer retailer. The licence agreement clearly states that the
purchaser is prohibited from engaging in the rental of the software. This often
occurs in the form of a rental, and then a re-stocking charge when the software
is returned to the retailer.
Counterfeit software involves both low quality disks and high quality
fakes that are extremely close in appearance to the original software.
Stealing via bulletin boards is one of the fastest growing means of
software theft. It involves downloading programs onto computers via a modem.
OEM unbundling can occur at either the Original Equipment Manufacturer
(OEM) level or at the retailer. Unbundling involves the separating of OEM
software from the hardware that it is licensed to be sold with. The product is
clearly marked ‘For Distribution With New PC Hardware Only’ and is designed so
that it cannot be sold on the retail shelf. The customer can run into support
issues as it is the OEM that is required to provide support for this type of
software. When you buy unbundled software you take a bigger risk of purchasing a
In conclusion, software piracy has had a major impact on the software
industry. Economically it has cost the industry billions of dollars each year
and there is no sign that this will change in the near future. No amount of
penalties or policing will stop the trend of software piracy. Each individual
must develop their own moral standards so that they do not add to the problem.