Software piracy, as the name implies, is the act of stealing one or many software by using software without the consent and permission of the software manufacturer who owns the intellectual property rights to the software. Who are those included in the net of software piracy? These include individuals who reproduce original software CDs without permission from the company who owns the software.
People who reproduce original software have different intentions – some simply wants to keep a back up in case the original CD is lost or broken; others see this as an enterprising activity and sells copies of a particular software for a cheaper price; other use the duplicate to install it many different computers. Others are plainly ignorant of the correct protocol that defines the legally acceptable exercise of software use, such as the case of a media firm which was found to have several computers operating through unlicensed software in a case that is considered as one of the largest piracy cases to date.
The incidental and accidental piracy was admittedly due to the ignorance of the company and the lack of effort to focus on obtaining licensed software. Regardless of the reasons people put forward, they are all nonetheless guilty of software piracy. In the age of computer dependency and the growing amount of work that gets done through the help of software installed in the computer, software programs is becoming a very hot commodity, and a lot of people are being tempted to opt for the cheaper pirated version of the software.
From the installer of the operating system of the computer to the installation of Adobe Photoshop and Counter Strike, software CDs are very much in demand, and many counterfeiters see an illegal solution to this current economic situation of providing supply for the growing demand by illegally reproducing these software and selling it for a cheaper price.
The Software & Information Industry Association, or the SIIA, explains that the act of copying software without permission from its manufacturers (ergo the absence of the license to use the ‘copied’ software) is a violation similar to the copyright breach committed when a person copies other forms of copyrighted materials like written works, musical composition, movies and other works that is covered by the copyright rule.
The SIIA describes software as a ‘relatively new form of intellectual property’ (2008) largely because of the fact that the turning of the computer as a mass commodity, along with its various software, happened not longer than 100 years ago, definitely younger than other forms of copyrighted materials that were already alive and existing even before the first computer was even built.
While the West is the bedrock of software development, the East is the backdoor that opens endless tunnels that funnel pirated software in different locations, generally because of the fact that many consumers and computer owners do not earn enough money to exercise the luxury of buying original and licensed software. An International Herald Tribune report indicated the topping of Asia when it comes to cases of software piracy compared to other clusters of countries.
Oakes (2004) reports about the 92 percent piracy rates of China and Vietnam, including the increase in losses from 2. in 2002 to 3. 8 billion US dollars the following year due to the presence of software piracy. China’s neighbors India and Pakistan also posted an 80+ rating in software piracy in 2003 while technology hub Japan showed very little software piracy problems at 23 percent. Software piracy in India, and the lack of aggressive effort by law enforcement groups to curb piracy in the country, made India an ‘IT power’, a transformation that was made possible due to the leniency of authorities in dealing with (software) pirates (Khurmi, 2001).
In the Philippines, which has a great number of its population being computer and Internet literate, the presence of pirated software is very much visible and locating pirated software is not very difficult to do. In fact, stores with legal operating permits can be found selling counterfeit software installers, most of them situated in areas like malls and nearby educational institutions since students and young professionals are the most common type of computer owners who are in need of software programs to install either because of upgrade reasons or because computers are being reprogrammed.
Here, the cost of original software CD is not less than 1,000 Philippine pesos while counterfeit pirated software CDs can be bought for only 200 pesos or less. Besides the active selling of counterfeit computer software CDs, another area of concern in this country that is included in the software piracy problem is the attitude of Filipinos to burn copies of original software and give it to peers who may need it (a blank CD is much cheaper, the cheapest costs 10 pesos only).
But unlike the battle to stop counterfeit movie CDs which is also prevalent in this country, software piracy is still yet to take a serious blow from the law. The case in the Philippines is just the microcosm of global software piracy – in most countries wherein the government has more important and serious issues to tackle, software piracy takes not just the backseat, sometimes it is kicked off the bus and waits idly by for law enforcement to take such cases seriously.
Laws on software piracy Individuals who engage in the buying, selling, producing, distribution and use of pirated software violate the existing intellectual property and copyright law in the particular country. While penalties vary from one country to another and from one case to another, the typical penalties for copyright infringement includes payment for damages and losses the company suffered because of the particular case of software piracy, as well as imprisonment.
Taiwan and Korea are very strict with the observance of acquiring legal licenses for use of software (Oakes, 2004), while countries like the US are experiencing the tightening noose of several dragnets cast by software piracy watchdog groups. Effects of software piracy The millions of dollars that companies lose in sales annually is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussing the effects of software piracy.
Software piracy negatively affects everyone involved in this vicious cycle – from the illegal manufacturers to those who actually buy counterfeit software to the computers that will use this illegally reproduced software to the general economy of the country that is suffering from software piracy problems. According to Microsoft, software piracy is the reason for lost wages as well as lost jobs, not to mention the creation of a practice that creates unfair competition, and that is the reason why consumers should seriously reconsider before buying a counterfeit item that contains computer software.
Computer specialists warn consumers about how using counterfeit software can present risk on the health of one’s computer. This is because the process of copying software CDs sometimes affects the way the software would function once installed. There is also a good chance that these CDs are possible carriers of virus that can infect a computer and lead to the corruption and deletion of files. And since these are not protected by the protection provided by manufacturers to customers who bought authentic software CDs, the customer stands at the losing end of this kind of deal.
A CRS website article on software piracy informs its audience about how software piracy puts one’s computer to ‘greater exposure to software viruses, corrupt disks, or otherwise defective software’. The article also reminded consumers that pirated software have ‘inadequate or no documentation’ and that it offers no warranty and technical product support. On a greater scale, people should also think about the fact that the prevalence of software piracy in a particular country acts as deterrence to the possibilities that can help improve the economy of the country.
In a study done by the IDC that surveyed 42 different countries found in Central and Eastern Europe, western Europe, North America, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Asia and the Pacific, it shows that ‘reducing software piracy can be a strategic tool to create high-paying jobs, increase tax revenues, expand economies, and fuel competitiveness’ (2008). The study indicate the prospective growth of the economies of countries if software piracy is reduced, highlighting the growing impact of software piracy not just on the legal manufacturers but to the countries as well.
A decrease in software piracy activities in Australia will result to the creation of 3,929 jobs; it will provide $1. 9 billion in local industry revenues as well as ‘$438 million in additional tax revenues for federal, regional, and local governments’ (2008). The rest of the surveyed countries each have country-specific analysis as well as projections of what to expect if software piracy is curbed on a local scale. Taking the lead Software manufacturers most of the time take a pro active stance in the fight against software piracy.
This pro active stance usually results to either of the following – the partnership and cooperation of these companies with the law enforcement agents, the partnership of these companies which results to the creation of a ‘super group’ that utilizes both the power of the law enforcement agencies as well as the power of the court of law to go after offending individuals and companies, or the creation of an internal battle plan that the company utilizes, without the presence or influence of third parties and outside entities.
Microsoft, through its website, identifies the presence of a team that responds to leads made by concerned citizens who make reports of software piracy incidents. While Microsoft did not really specify if the ‘team’ refers to a collection of individuals coming from inside Microsoft and from other outside agencies, the message that it is trying to send to the customers is that it has allotted a particular manpower to focus on handling software counterfeiting cases, not so much to deter crime but to provide an assurance to loyal and honest customers that Microsoft itself is taking action and is not merely passing the buck to the law enforcement units. Software piracy and the absence of international arm of the law
There are no international organization that is sanctioned to handle software piracy cases, unlike in the case of crimes that international organizations like the United Nations prosecute like war crimes and genocide. Today, criminals are tried like any other criminal, and lawful procedures are observed. Extradition treaties and other agreements, pacts and treatises signed by participating countries take effect as well when it comes to the handling, prosecuting and jurisdiction over criminals who are on trial for software piracy.
If the crime becomes highly publicized and becomes a high profile case, certain issues on jurisdiction may complicate the situation especially if the criminal is facing software piracy cases in more than one country and both countries are eager to prosecute the individual and dole out punishment. This is highly possible today, with the growing number of outsource firms and partner and satellite companies found in different countries. An example of this case is the possible installation of a technician of pirated software in computers that are in use in different locations.
A US-based outsourcing firm can create satellite offices in India and the Philippines, which are known hotbeds of business process outsource companies, and have all of the computers in the US, Philippines and India operating with the use of pirated software. Independent country-based software piracy watchdog may sue the company operating inside the country, but the same firm may have difficulty doing that to the other sister or satellite companies that uses pirated software.
It is during these cases that groups created to help combat software piracy feel inadequate when it comes to power since most of these groups are not globally influential, making the reach of the arm of the law constricted and limited, and the problem of software piracy as prevalent as ever, at some extent even expanding by the day despite the efforts that produces little results that hardly dent the operation of software piracy around the world. International laws on piracy: is it really needed?
Observers are asking if umbrella laws that is designed to be enforced worldwide is necessary now that software piracy is prevalent and that the combating of software piracy is still very much dependent on the action of local law enforcement units in a particular country. This is crucial since in the age of Internet and the transformation of the computer as another common feature of any house in any part of the world, firms producing computer software are losing millions everyday with the unchecked software piracy problems in many different countries.
Software producing firms should be one of the strongest supporters and main lobbyists for the creation and acceptance of international laws in software piracy that will include protocol that allows agents to operate in different countries unimpeded by the bureaucracy and politics in particular countries. Depending the software piracy drives on country-based laws and the pace of the movement of the law enforcement agencies in that particular country makes international software piracy drive unable to exercise the power, impact and effect a concerted effort can provide.
The Business Software Alliance and its role in combating software piracy The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is one of the very few organizations that are designed specifically to go after offenders in the software piracy drive. To date, many companies that are directly involved in the manufacturer of not just computer software but computers and its peripherals as well are partners of the BSA. The group has made many significant moves since its inception, and some of the group’s actions are consider high profile.
But while BSA proves to be very busy in hunting down businesses that use pirated software programs, many are asking if the direction of the well-funded organization is the needed step towards erasing software piracy and if the efforts of the group have long term effects Software Piracy and International Cooperation Some of the tricky parts in combating piracy involves several things, like the establishment of proper protocol especially when operating in foreign soil and the possible criss-crossing of laws and rules during operations that involve software piracy crackdown.
But there are instances that law enforcement units from different countries that partner in software piracy drive easily hurdle the potholes and obstacles brought about by the laws existing in a particular country or area. An example of this the alliance formed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its Chinese counterparts that led to the seizing in 2007 of an estimated 500 million in US dollars worth of counterfeit software from two criminal organization that masterminds the software piracy operations in China.
The Shanghai and Shenzhen-based group was believed to be responsible for the pirating and distributing of software amounting to two billion US dollars. The two-year collaboration between US and China ended on a good note, which includes the arrest of Chinese and US nationals and the dismantling of an organization that contributes to the proliferation of pirated software. This event also underscores the significance of the active participation of software companies in the drive against software piracy.
The US and China got help from Microsoft, one of the many companies that suffer greatly in the sale of counterfeit software. Support tools for software piracy laws It is no question that the current efforts as well as laws designed to protect the intellectual property of software manufacturers is not really reaching the level and extent that is needed for the drastic cutting of software piracy worldwide.
Because of the absence of a strong approach to combat software piracy, software makers are resorting to a different tactic and uses its own resources focused on curbing future instances of software piracy. Companies like Microsoft and Adobe are using different tools, from educating the public to giving away incentives to developing technology-based tools and features that can protect the original software from being copied, or at least to make the process of software piracy take a little longer and be more complex.
Improving the system – Microsoft admits that one of the ways that it considers as a necessary step for a company to provide a shield that can deter the work of software counterfeiters is to consistently develop and use technology that can outsmart current methods in software piracy. Microsoft allots some of the company resources for the development of anti-piracy technology and this course of action according to Microsoft affects the company in a negative way by causing the slowing down of the development of the company’s products and services.
Providing incentive to those who support the use of original software is also a move for positive reinforcement that may help improve the attitude of the consumers towards buying original software. The giving of incentive is also present in the strategies used by organizations which are convincing the public to tell on those who actually use, sell or reproduce pirated software. Several organizations like the Business Software Alliance are offering monetary incentives to those whose report of software piracy and related activities led to the detection of individuals or companies guilty of using pirated software.
Software producers can only hope and achieve this much, since the streets and the underground has as much talented people as the research and development team in Adobe and Microsoft that there are immediate counters and ways to bypass of override recent security features that renders it useless in the long run, but still denting the operations cost of software companies who is short of raising their arms in defeat in the battle for software protection that is currently leaning steeply in one particular direction.
Ethical problems in software piracy There are ethical problems that arise in software piracy issues. Most significant of these ethical problems is focused on the inability of some of the members of the industry to block entities that are not just putting positive support to the cause but is also helping in making things worst by allowing software piracy to find a new avenue and reach more customers. An example of this is the presence of pirated software in Internet auction and business to customers (B2C) or business to business (B2B) sites.
Instead of becoming a tool to promote the responsible patronage of only the authentic software, these Internet sites has embraced the business paradigm of software pirates and hope to rake in more money by selling pirated software. Another ethical issue in the battle to stop software piracy is the guilt of government agency offices in software piracy. The world is yet to hear of a police precinct or a hospital which is identified as location of used pirated software.
This does not mean it does not happen – it does, as many government agency offices are not actually using licensed software, especially offices that consider it impractical to spend such amount of money over something they can put in the cost-cutting column. The question is this – do companies like Microsoft and organizations like the BSA have the moral authority and resolve to also go after these institutions or are they also turning a blind eye on this particular aspect of software piracy? Another ethical problem present in the software piracy issue is the usage of such efforts for political purposes.
In Russia, protesters are condemning the fact that the government is using the US-inspired copyright law and software protection regulations as a legal way of closing companies particularly media institutions in what many believes as an effort by the government against perceived dissidents and government critics. Doctorow (2007) refers to the software piracy law as another one of the many ‘universal activities’ which provided the much needed disguise for the government and their witch hunt for ‘inconvenient people’.