CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, March 9, 1998

Make Software Piracy meet its doom

Once a year it seems, I mount this public soapbox to preach about the evils of software piracy. I've tried to restrain myself from editorializing too much on this topic, but I recently participated in a forum regarding the ethical issues of piracy and I'm all riled up again.

One school of thought viewed piracy as a benefit to software companies, since it was as really just another form of marketing. The radical thinkers simply dismissed the idea of "intellectual property" as philosophically non-existent while the more moderate side espoused that any software used for "educational purposes" should be free for the taking. All this to legitimize and justify stealing. Theft: pure and simple.

How many thieves do you know who steal property, then remark with enlightenment: "This is so great! Let's go buy ten!" So much for marketing. And with enough imagination, "educational" purposes could be construed for almost any software application. (For your convenience, a Russian website actually publishes over 7,000 license numbers for "educational" users to freely copy and use!) A larger battle looms when entire governments, such as China for example, simply don't acknowledge the concept of "intellectual property".

Software is the third-largest "value-add" industry in the United States, behind motor vehicles and equipment. The industry currently employs over 2 million people and is growing at a rate if 5.8% per year. Last year, however, the software industry lost more than $15.2 billion dollars due to software theft and continues to lose $41.6 million dollars daily. In real numbers, this translates to 130,000 lost jobs and $1 billion dollars in lost tax revenues, as only one side effect.

On a personal level, the proliferation of software piracy drives up the cost of goods for the rest of us hard-working folk who respect the intellectual property rights of others. Software prices are akin to health care costs, which are astronomical for paying customers, to cover the costs of the uninsured. In the same vein, software prices are high in anticipation of all the copies that will never be paid for.

The availability and affordability of good technical support is another causality of pirated software. Manufacturers have to cut corners someplace and once again it's at the expense of the consumer. Any good technical support today that is expeditious and effective costs at least $35/hourly for licensed users to get help.

Additionally there are many unscrupulous thugs on the Net who think it's cute to inject a virus or two into their pirate products. Millions of hours are wasted annually in the workplace trying to fix problems created by hacked software that ends up costing employers dearly in the end.

On a more troubling level, software piracy speaks to the despicable nature of humanity in general that disregards the toil and effort of fellow human beings if they can get away with it. Why buy it, when we can steal it?

Software piracy is not just stealing --- it's an insult to the hard working programmers and inventors that pour millions of hours into developing these products. It is their intellectual property and we all reap the benefits of their innovation and effort. It's not OK to steal ideas that have been copyrighted, just as it's not OK to steal your neighbor's car or jewelry.

If you've purchased just one copy of any software product, Microsoft Word, for example, and installed it on all your office computers, you've violated the terms of your original licensing agreement and are guilty of piracy. That's the law. Licenses belong to the actual computer...not the user.

The policing and enforcement efforts of agencies, such as the Business Software Alliance, have made a small dent in this rampant problem. Launching campaigns such as "Nail Your Boss" and "Blow the Whistle" have netted settlements from companies both large and small around the country. In the last five years, BSA has collected $5.4 million from California firms, $3 million from Texas companies and $1.7 from Illinois concerns. These three states topped the list of domestic violators of software licensing agreements.

Freedom of information exchange does not mean that everything is free! The ultimate consequence of free-running piracy is not just increased prices but increased regulations, government intervention and burdensome operating procedures that will hamstring everyone.

I'll step down from my soapbox now...'til next year.

To report unlicensed or pirated software use call: Business Software Alliance 888-NO-PIRACY

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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