Is Software Piracy Really a Crime?
A reader asks: Some of my friends are using commercial software without paying for it. They say it's no big deal to get pirated versions of games from 'warez' sites, and that I'm a fool to pay for Windows7 or Microsoft Office, when I can download them for free. Software piracy seems like one of those 'victimless crimes', so why is it illegal?
What is Software Piracy?
Software piracy is theft, plain and simple. Dressing it up in the pseudo-romantic connotations of "piracy" doesn't change that fact. Making excuses for theft diminish the harm that it does. Pardon the unpleasant analogy, but excuses are like flatulence: everybody has some and nobody wants to hear it. Read on, and I'll explain the harm that software piracy causes, the dangers it can pose, and why it's really pointless. (Read all the way to the end for the really good news.)
In general, software piracy is the unauthorized use of software. "Use" may have the ordinary meaning of using the software for its intended purpose, or it may mean making and distributing copies of the software. If you don't have the copyright owner's permission to use the software, you're committing piracy. You are taking the copyright owner's property - the right to control the sale or use of his software - without permission or compensation. That is theft, obviously.
The harm done by software piracy is done to the rights owner and to society. The rights owner (the software developer) is deprived of money that would otherwise be available to help him earn a profit from his labor, distribute his software and develop new software. Of course the "him" in the preceding sentence could be an individual, a small business, or a huge corporation.
Rail against greedy corporations all you like, but piracy costs jobs at every link in the software development and distribution chain, from programmers to retail clerks. The money that those unemployed or underpaid people would have received is not spent to support other people's jobs. About the only jobs that piracy creates are for lawyers, police, and thieves.
The Business Software Alliance, an anti-piracy group funded by software developers, estimates that lost revenues due to piracy amounted to over $63 billion in 2012. The BSA estimates that one in five copies of business software is pirated. In their 2011 Global Software Piracy Study, you can find these and other interesting stats:
- 57 percent of all computer users admit to pirating software. Of those users,
- 31 percent say they do it “all of the time,” “most of the time,” or “occasionally,”
- 26 percent admit to using illegal software, but only “rarely.”
- Venezuela is tops in software piracy (88%), closely followed by Indonesia (86%) and China (77%).
- In the USA, the number is only 19%, but the value of the stolen software is highest (USD $9.77 billion)
Examples of Software Piracy
Some argue those figures are meaningless or excessive because some stolen software would not have been purchased anyhow. But stealing something that hasn't been sold is still stealing. The BSA identifies five types of software piracy:
- End-user piracy: - A company employee makes unauthorized copies of software. Examples include
- Using one licensed copy to install a program on multiple computers;
- Copying disks for installation and distribution;
- Taking advantage of upgrade offers without having a legal copy of the version to be upgraded;
- Acquiring academic or other restricted or non-retail software without a license for commercial use;
You may find "too good to be true" deals on software at eBay or Craigslist. You may even see free or "cracked" versions of popular software titles on file sharing or Bittorrent sites. I advise people to steer clear, to avoid the dangers of installing pirated software, and guard against look-a-likes that have embedded malware. By installing one of these freebies, you could be opening a backdoor to your computer that allows hackers, viruses, and identity thieves to wreak havoc. Cleaning up that mess will cost a lot.
You can help stop software piracy by reporting it via the BSA's website, where your report will remain anonymous. You may also want to read the Microsoft Piracy Reporting FAQ, if you think you may have inadvertently acquired illegal software.
What About Free Software?
The irony is that most of this software piracy is pointless. There are many excellent FREE programs that rival the quality and features found in their expensive commercial counterparts. Did you know you can download a free office suite, with word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation modules? It can even open and save files in Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint formats. And that's just one example. You can find free software for accounting, productivity, image/photo/audio editing, anti-virus, password managers, games and much more.
Check out my articles Seven Free Software Downloads and Seven MORE Free Software Downloads, where you'll find links for some of the most popular free software. If you want even more, see my ebook Free Software: How to Save $5000 on the Most Popular Software Titles. And if you're curious about why free software exists, see Why Does Free Software Exist? to learn what motivates the people who create it.
Your thoughts on software piracy and free software are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 18 Dec 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Software Piracy Really a Crime? (Posted: 18 Dec 2012)
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