Local News

Digital Crime 101: Software Piracy

Posted October 20, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— As the world moves toward an information based economy, one of the biggest and most expensive threats is software piracy.

According to The Software Publishers Association, pirated software costs the worldwide economy $13 billion.

Microsoft says software piracy cost North Carolina more than $300 million in lost wages, taxes and sales in 1997. According to today's WRAL OnLine Hot Button poll half of all users have copied someone else's software. While piracy can be innocuous or premeditated, it is illegal in all cases.

The new tools of the digital age make it easy to copy virtually anything; even to the point that it is exactly like the original. Whether it is because of cost or convenience, all kinds of software - from games to operating systems - are pirated. When users pay for software they are actually not "buying" it.

"They don't sell you a copy of the software. They sell you a license to use the software," patent attorney Needham Boddie said.

When loading a CD-ROM or downloading from the Internet, users should read the license agreement to find out how they can use the product. This agreement is a binding contract.

"It in fact puts you on notice that there was an agreement, if it ever comes to a case where somebody says you've infringed our software," Boddie said.

Big software companies guard their products carefully all over the world. Individual pirates copy software to floppy disks and can easily copy CD-ROM's in their homes. Software companies have a hard time stopping that crime.

"They have to rely on people, informants, to tell them, 'Hey, there's some illegal or infringing activity going on here,'" Boddie said.

Companies sometimes use software illegally whether by choice or ignorance. Disgruntled employees often report illegal uses of software when they leave companies.

"When the employee leaves, they contact the business software alliance or the software publishers association and basically turn in their former company," Boddie said.

Companies should keep records of all the software on each computer. Software piracy is generally a violation of copyright laws, namely theft of intellectual property. Copyright laws are flexible and strong, and ignorance is not an excuse.