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Software Piracy and the Law

Help your students understand the law regarding software piracy.

Most people would never consider stealing something that did not belong to them. But those who copy software without authorization are, in fact, stealing someone else’s property — their intellectual property. And they are breaking the law.

You may not realize it, but software development involves a team effort that blends the creative ideas and talents of programmers, writers and graphic artists. And like most creative works, such as books, music and films, computer software is protected by copyright laws.

When you purchase software, you do not become the owner of the copyright. Rather, you are purchasing the right to use the software under certain restrictions imposed by the copyright owner, typically the software publisher. The precise rules are described in the documentation accompanying the software — the license. It is imperative that you understand and adhere to these rules.

Most often, they state that you have the right to load the software onto a single computer and make one backup copy. If you copy, distribute or install the software in ways that the license prohibits, whether you are swapping disks with friends and coworkers or participating in widespread duplication, you are violating copyright law. Even if you only help someone else make unauthorized copies, you are still liable under copyright law.

Quite simply, to make or download unauthorized copies of software is to break the law, no matter how many copies are involved. Whether you are casually making a few copies for friends, loaning disks, distributing and/or downloading pirated software via the Internet, or buying a single software program and then installing it on 100 of a company’s personal computers, you are committing a copyright infringement.

It doesn’t matter if you are doing it to make money or not — you are exposing yourself to severe civil and potentially even criminal penalties. For example, those individuals using the Internet to sell or distribute pirated or counterfeit software programs through online auctions and “warez” sites may be criminally prosecuted, even if they do not profit from the illegal activity.

What are the Penalties for Software Piracy?

Software piracy is stealing and is a serious offence that can attract criminal and civil penalties. For more information on the law, check with the local Intellectual Property organizations in your country.

Apart from legal consequences, using copied or counterfeit software also means:

  • Greater exposure to software viruses, corrupt disks or otherwise defective Software
  • Inadequate or no documentation and no warranties
  • Lack of technical product support available to properly licensed users
  • Ineligibility for software upgrades offered to properly licensed users

What are My Responsibilities as a Software User?

Your first responsibility as a software user is to purchase only legitimate software products. When buying software, make sure you get genuine disks, manuals and license documentation. Avoid loose or hand-labeled disks or software offered at prices that are “too good to be true.” Be wary of unscrupulous Internet vendors, who advertise attractive deals on “genuine” software that was overstocked or otherwise discounted for inventory reasons. Keep in mind that a high percentage of software sold through online auctions is illegal.

Next, you have a responsibility to install and use your software in accordance with the license agreement. Since these agreements differ from publisher to publisher, you need to read them carefully. When someone else installs the purchased software, be sure that individual provides you with proof that the product is properly licensed. If you have outsourced your information technology needs to a consultant or application service provider, you are still responsible for software license compliance.

Software piracy is not a victimless crime. Piracy denies the software developer its rightful revenue and harms consumers and the industry as a whole. All software developers, both big and small, spend years creating software. A portion of every dollar spent in purchasing original software is funneled back into research and development, so that newer, more advanced software can be produced. When you purchase illegal or counterfeit copies, your money goes straight into the pockets of software pirates.

What is the Economic Impact of Software Piracy?

According to the Ninth Annual BSA Global Software Piracy Study, in Asia Pacific, 60 percent of the software installed in 2011 on personal computers (PCs) was obtained illegally, while software losses due to PC software piracy amounted to almost US$21 billion.

The Global Software Piracy Study covers all packaged software that runs on personal computers, including desktops, laptops, and ultra-portables. This includes operating systems, systems software such as databases and security packages, business applications, and consumer applications such as PC games, personal finance, and reference software. The study does not include other types of software such as that which runs on servers or mainframes or software sold as a service.

But software piracy’s damaging economic impact is not only confined to the software industry. In fact, software piracy has an effect on the economic health of the nation as a whole.

In a separate study commissioned by the BSA and conducted by IDC, reducing software piracy in Asia by just 10 percentage points over a four year period could generate 350,000 new jobs, almost US$41 billion in economic growth, and close to US$9 billion in tax revenues.

What More Can You do to Prevent Piracy?

For more information about software piracy, or to report piracy, contact BSA in your country.