Software Piracy

Technology in the 21st century possesses the ironically unique ability to simultaneously bring out the best that the human mind can conjure, as well as the worst.  A perfect example of this is the software industry.  Because of the infinite intelligence and skill of software developers, combined with a bit of creativity and ambition, computer software is constantly being engineered to assist us in business, education, medicine, and much more.  Conversely, this same software has led to the advent of a more sinister, yet equally intelligent and ambitious individual, known as the software pirate, which is to say that this individual’s main goal is to use what others have created, without the creator’s permission, for their own ruthless gain.Software piracy is likewise unique in the way that it is viewed by the general public; while most people would be outraged and appalled at the prospect of entering someone’s home or business without permission and stealing the contents, these same people often times feel that software piracy is not a big issue, and see nothing wrong with it.  This may be a social phenomena or simply a skewed view of a very real crime, but whatever the case, the fact remains that the crime exists, is growing, and has specific penalties for its violations.With the issue of software piracy in mind, the key aspects of the topic will be presented and discussed in this paper, and ultimately, the paper will conclude with a summary and thoughts on this highly volatile topic.Software Piracy Defined and ClassifiedBefore anyone can truly appreciate exactly what is involved in software piracy, as well as its effects, it is important to first have a basic definition of what software piracy is, as well as the basic classifications of software piracy.  Loosely defined, software piracy is the use, copying, distribution, and/or sale of software without the permission of the owner of that software, which is to say the person or persons who own the licensing rights to the software (Software Piracy and its Impact on Social Welfare).  This broad definition includes several classifications of software pirate; on the lowest level of piracy, and indeed the most innocuous, are those who purchase software legitimately and perhaps install it on more than one of their own computers, for personal use, as well as the person who buys an illegal copy knowingly and does the same.  More serious are the business buyers who make unauthorized copies of software and use it for commercial purposes, or buy illegal copies of software in the full knowledge that the software is in fact illegal.  The most harmful, and unlawful software pirate is the individual who knowingly produces many illegal copies of software and sells them to others, which of course is done mostly for the sake of the tremendous profit potential of software piracy itself (Marshall, 1993).The basic types of software pirates can become involved in a variety of pirate activities as well; the first and most common method of software piracy is called End-user Copying, which is essentially the deliberate copying of a program and distributing it. Additionally, many pirates are quite fond of the practice of  Hard Drive Loading, or the illegal copying of software onto a computer that a  computer dealer or company is selling, in order to make the machine more marketable to the customer, who may not even realize that a crime has occurred.Internet popularity has given rise to yet another kid of software piracy, when software is unlawfully sold or given away for free online; in either case, this is being done so without the consent of the owner of the software intelligence, and therefore is highly illegal and unethical.   Counterfeiting is also very popular, in the sense that logos, packaging, and all of the other attributes of the original software packaging can now be cleverly duplicated so that the buyer has truly no idea that what they are buying is in fact false software, making the consumer an unwitting victim to the crime of the pirate.One thing is very clear in regard to the means and types of software piracy; it is growing in occurrence, complexity and volume as technology develops and software is created that is more desirable for thieves to steal, and the crimes do vary in damage and commonality. While the classifications of software pirate vary in detrimental effect, they all do have a measurable effect in one way or another.  Because of this, it is also important to understand how the piracy has a sort of compound effect throughout society, as well as how society responds to it overall.How Pirated Software Can be IdentifiedEven with the latest techniques that software pirates use to dupe innocent consumers into buying pirated software without their knowledge, there are some classic characteristics that pirated software can exhibit, thereby alerting the buyer of this fact and helping them to avoid a bad buying decision:§    Programs (including the operating system) were preinstalled on the computer but there aren’t any accompanying original CDs.§  No official looking documentation accompanies the packaging.§  Your “tech person” seems to be able to provide you with any program you need, but you never actually have to pay for it.§  Different people are using software on different computers that were installed from the same CDs. (Ahoy Matey-Are You a Software Pirate?)Issues from Consumer and Developer ViewpointsThe knee-jerk reaction of the average person may be that software piracy is a harmless, even victimless crime, and that the companies such as Microsoft that develop and sell software are profitable enough to handle a bit of pilferage.  In reality, neither of these assumptions could be further from the truth. The consumer is hurt by software piracy from several standpoints, whether they are involved in the purchase of pirated software or not.  The sad reality is that when software is pirated, the legitimate consumer pays more for the licensed software copies because the developers need to recoup their lost revenue, via piracy, somehow.  Beyond this, if a consumer knowingly or unknowingly buys pirated software, in many cases, the copied software contains errors or viruses that will damage the consumer’s computer equipment, or cause the software to malfunction.  This will become painfully obvious to the consumer when they are faced with an infected computer or serious calculation errors in homework, business reports, etc. Likewise, it is not hard to imagine what would happen if pirated software malfunctioned in a piece of industrial machinery, an aircraft, or medical equipment- in this instance, piracy becomes deadly.Developers, at the very least, are victims of crime at the hands of the software pirates, for quite literally, their property has been stolen from them, and they are not reaping any of the financial benefits of their creation.  This can be quite disheartening to a developer who has dedicated a great deal of time, talent, and treasure to a software development project, only to see their product being counterfeited and sold on a widespread basis, while they fail to realize any gains from those sales.  Reflecting back to the consequences of inferior software copies as well, a developer’s reputation could be improperly harmed if a pirated copy of software was assumed to be the genuine article, and someone was harmed by it.The bottom line is that software piracy is not a victimless crime, and in some instances, life is actually on the line as well as quite literally billions of dollars and the life’s work of some very intelligent people.  Realizing this, law enforcement has taken some definite steps to prevent software piracy, as well as punish those who choose to do so.Laws Against, and Penalties for, Software PiracyWithout a doubt, there is a general consensus by most of the civilized world that software piracy is a serious crime, and as such, should carry with it serious consequences for those who break the law and choose to deal in pirated software products.  In the United States, laws have been enacted to punish individuals in the criminal, as well as civil, courts when they engage in software piracy.Criminally, software piracy is essentially theft and copyright infringement; of course, the degree to which the piracy has been undertaken will determine the amount of the theft, and therefore the severity of the criminal penalty.  Without authorization from the copyright owner, title 18 of U.S. Code prohibits duplicating software for profit, making multiple copies for use bydifferent users within an organization, downloading multiple copies from a network, or giving an unauthorized copy to another individual. All are Federal crimes, and penalties for these crimes can  include fines up to $250,000 and jail terms lasting many years, clearly showing that software piracy will not be tolerated and is being viewed as the highly serious crime that it is, with specific consequences and undoubtedly scores of innocent victims.Enforcement and Deterrents/New Protections and TechnologiesClearly, law enforcement and the legislative communities have united to fight the plague of software piracy, but in the estimation of many, the tremendous amount of piracy that has taken place, and will take place in the future, makes enforcement of laws and punishment of lawbreakers all but useless; therefore, new methods of deterrent against piracy have emerged in recent years, and software companies have stepped up to address the growing problem.  Just as sharp minds have created software, likewise, they have created protections for that software against copying.  Examples of this include the integration of programming code within software that will not allow it to be copied from its original media source, the use of registration codes that need to be registered on the creator’s Website for the software to function, making replication impossible, and the like.  From the packaging standpoint, the use of complex holograms as labeling for the packaging, serial numbers, barcodes and such have made counterfeit packaging very difficult to facilitate.One of the leaders in the fight against piracy has been Microsoft, an organization that has always been at the forefront of the technological boom.  Because of Microsoft’s success through unique innovation and an unending supply of creativity, the firm has been one of the most victimized in terms of imitators and outright criminals such as software pirates, who have realized a great deal of ill gotten money at the expense of Microsoft, via the piracy of popular software such as Windows.  However, Microsoft has fought back in a variety of ways, many of which were mentioned earlier in this paper.  For example, the packaging of Microsoft software products now features tamper-proof seals, holograms that are very difficult to copy, and so forth; once the package is opened, the software features the online registration codes that are being utilized by many software companies to avoid unauthorized copying.  Also widely used by the company is an advanced and widespread enforcement division, which is well known for enforcing software violations and taking legal action against those who violate Microsoft’s intellectual properties (Microsoft Cracks Down on Software Piracy, 2006).  What this clearly illustrates is that software piracy will not be tolerated, and is in fact a crime of the most serious type.Response of the Educational and Business SectorsFollowing Microsoft’s example, the business sector in general is doing all that it can to combat software piracy; as technology progresses, so too does the ability of software producers to keep one step ahead of the criminals.  Taking it a step further as well, the fight against piracy has likewise gone global, as it is estimated that billions of dollars in revenue is lost every year from the piracy that takes place in Asia alone (Marshall, 1993).  While international infringement is by its very nature quite difficult to enforce, there is an awesome responsibility on the part of the software owners to make every attempt to protect their property from outright theft.The educational world, too, has moved forward in efforts to prevent the unauthorized copying of software, be it proprietary software created by a given college, school or university, or the software purchased from an outside vendor, for both represent potential liability for the educational institutions and expose the computer networks of the institutions to potential malfunction and virus exposure (Moores, 2006).  Furthermore, integrity is the backbone of any reputable educational institution and must exist in order to set an example for its current and prospective students, which will help to ensure the long term viability of the institutions themselves.  In this instance, the importance of protection from software piracy is absolutely key.Software Piracy as Economic and Social PhenomenaUp to this point, the emphasis in analyzing and discussing software piracy has admittedly been from the economic point of view, and indeed that needs to be considered anytime the topic is discussed, for as the old adage goes, money is truly the root of all evil and indeed the driving force behind much of the crime that occurs in the world today.  Whenever something valuable, and as easy to steal as software exists, there will always be someone around who is more than willing to take the risk to steal it.  Likewise, or perhaps as an underlying factor in the motivation for committing software piracy, are the social factors surrounding the crime (Bagchi, et al, 2006).First, the previously stated myth that stealing software is not a criminal issue because there is so much of it in circulation, and if someone takes a copy or two from someone else, the developers will make up the loss somewhere else, is absurd.  Within modern society, in large part due to the proliferation of movies, television programs, and yes software, that portrays criminal acts as exciting and desirable creates a feeling in society that crime overall is acceptable and a “small crime” like piracy of software matters little in the big scope of all of the major crimes that occur in society.  However, the piracy has within it the potential to collapse the whole software industry.  To understand this better, one must realize how and why software creators exist and continue to produce.The reason that software is created, and is able to continue to be created, is because the legitimate sale of the software by its creators generates financial benefits for those creators, thereby giving them the means to create new software products and continue to make meaningful contributions to the technological community and enhance the lives of others.  If they do not realize these gains, they are likely to cease producing said software.Socially, and economically, the average person must come to grips with the fact that software piracy is illegal, dangerous, and unacceptable.  Once this happens, the average person will be able to vigilantly refuse to buy illegal software, and be good citizens by reporting the sale of illegal software to law enforcement for proper action to be taken.Summary and ThoughtsThis paper has discussed software piracy from a variety of angles and points of view, but what it has not done, which is important nonetheless, is make a comment on the effect of technology on our lives, for better or worse, and how technology holds the power to create or destroy the human experience.  While it is difficult for many people to grasp how an intellectual property, lacking the concrete attributes of a car or diamond ring, can in fact be stolen from an owner and unlawfully used by another, that same person can undoubtedly realize that if technology is jeopardized by criminals and opportunists, their future will be quite bleak as well.  Software production employs millions of Americans, and generates billions of dollars in revenue, and perhaps that is where the best understanding can be found.  If economic collapse can be brought about by software piracy, it must be stopped, for the good of all of humankind, before it is too late.

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