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Software Piracy

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: A Worldwide Problem

Software piracy is defined as the illegal copying of software for commercial or personal gain. Software companies have tried many methods to prevent piracy, with varying degrees of success. Several agencies like the Software Publishers Association and the Business Software Alliance have been formed to combat both worldwide and domestic piracy. Software piracy is an unresolved, worldwide problem, costing millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Software companies have used many different copy protection schemes. The most annoying form of copy protection is the use of a key disk. This type of copy protection requires the user to insert the original disk every time the program is run. It can be quite difficult to keep up with disks that are years old. The most common technique of copy protection requires the user to look up a word or phrase in the program's manual. This method is less annoying than other forms of copy protection, but it can be a nuisance

having to locate the manual everytime. Software pirates usually have no trouble "cracking" the

program, which permanently removes the copy protection.

After the invention of CD-ROM, which until lately was uncopyable, most software companies stopped placing copy protection in their programs. Instead, the companies are trying new methods of disc impression. 3M recently developed a new technology of disc impression which allows companies to imprint an image on the read side of a CD-ROM. This technology would not prevent pirates from copying

the CD, but it would make a "bootleg" copy differ from the original and make the copy traceable by law enforcement officials (Estes 89). Sometimes, when a person uses a pirated program, there is a "virus" attached to the program. Viruses are self-replicating programs that, when activated, can damage a computer. These viruses are most commonly found on pirated computer games, placed there by some malignant computer programmer. In his January 1993 article, Chris O' Malley points out that if piracy was wiped out viruses would eventually disappear (O' Malley 60).

There are ways that a thrifty consumer can save money on software without resorting to piracy. Computer companies often offer discounts on new software if a person has previously purchased an earlier version of the software. Competition between companies also drives prices low and keeps the number of pirated copies down (Morgan 45). People eventually tire or outgrow their software and decide to sell it. Usually, there is no problem transferring the program from one person to another unless the original owner had been bound by a license agreement. In order for the new owner to legally own the software, the old owner must tell the company, in writing, that he would like to transfer the license to the new owner. Most people fail to notify the company when selling software, thus making the unsuspecting new owner a

software pirate (Morgan 46).

Consumers must be careful when dealing with used software. United States copyright law allows consumers to place a copy of a program on their computer and also make another copy for backup

purposes, in case the original disk fails or is destroyed. Some software companies use licensing agreements to restrict people from making more than one copy of a program. Such use of agreements can make an average consumer into a software pirate, in his effort to make sure his expensive software is safe (Murdoch 2).

Before 1990 movie rental stores could rent computer software. People who rented the software would copy the software before returning it. In defense, Congress passed the Software Rental Act,outlawing the rental of software. Even though illegal, many stores and even some software companies still rent software. Since retail space in stores is extremely limited, companies could rent older software that did not have a good showing in retail stores (Champion 128).

Software companies could take an idea from the home video industry. The larger video makers found that if they sold videos in foreign countries through their own dealerships, the amount of piracy decreased (Weisband 33). A rather unique strategy used by American software manufactures helps raise local interest

in stopping software piracy. Companies invest money to begin software corporations in foreign countries. After a few years, the US companies hope that the new, foreign companies will initiate their own anti-piracy organizations (Weisband 30). Microsoft has led the venture by creating small software companies to help battle piracy. By doing this, the companies would want to report piracy because they would be losing money just like American companies are doing now (Weisband 33).

The Software Publishers Association, based in Washington, D.C., was developed to combat software piracy. As of 1993 the SPA has brought more than 1300 court cases against software pirates. The SPA has a toll-free number that has helped catch many pirates and prosecute them (O' Malley 50). The SPA is not merely a law enforement agency. It meets twice a year with representatives from software companies. Together they decide how to make their software better and also how to better serve the consumer. In the spring 1993 conference the SPA decided that if software packagers could develop a standard way to clearly label a software box, the consumer would immediately know if the program would run well on his computer. This labeling would help reduce the number of software returns in stores (Karnes 4). Since software stores cannot resell returned software, the software companies lose money on the software.

Even though only a few of the larger corporations have been prosecuted by the SPA, the penalties are extremely severe. A company that is caught making or owning illegal software can face jail time and fines of double the cost of the software or fifty thousand dollars, whichever is greater (Mamis 127). Companies need to keep good records in order to survive a surprise

audit by the SPA. The SPA is not without heart; they offer companies amnesty if the companies confess and pay for all illegally copied software (Davis 50).

Unfortunately, there are some people who support software piracy. These people see software companies as rich, coldhearted businesses who make so much profit that they can afford to take a loss.

While this statement might prove true for large companies like Microsoft or IBM, smaller businesses can be financially devistated by even a few pirated copies (Hope 40). Supporters of software piracy do not consider their actions wrong. They argue that software needs to be freely distributed in order to speed



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