What Is Software Piracy?

Discover if the software you're using might be stolen

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Software piracy is the stealing of software that is legally protected. Are you currently using software to type a document or edit a photo? If so, are you sure the software isn't pirated?

What Is Software Piracy?

Software piracy refers to the act of stealing software that is legally protected, which means protected under copyright.

Most software purchased today has a single-use license, which means only one user can use the software. Software piracy occurs when that software is copied, modified, or sold to another party.

Pirated software is also referred to as "bootlegged" software.

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Although some software piracy is malicious, it can also happen in seemingly innocent circumstances. For example, copying software to share with a friend is considered piracy. Copying software to use on two different computers for personal use is also considered piracy.

Software Piracy: a Brief History

In 1975, the first personal computer was invented. Unfortunately, software wasn't protected up until 1980, when the Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980 came into effect. At this time, however, only those who understood the ins and outs of the computer in its infancy had the ability to pirate.

In late 1989, the United States Patent Office began to issue patents to developers of the software, further protecting their property. However, over time, using a computer for the act of pirating software has become common knowledge. In fact, there is approximately $19 billion dollars of unlicensed software in North America and Europe and $27.3 billion throughout the rest of the world.

Notable Software Piracy Cases of the Past

Over the past decade, there have been notable software piracy cases underlining the importance of keeping an eye on what you're using.

  • A $100 million software piracy ring: Six men once plead guilty to pirating Adobe and Microsoft programs such as Windows and Photoshop. Each of the men faced up to five years in prison and a quarter of a million dollars in restitution each.
  • Bitmanagement vs the U.S. Navy: Software company Bitmanagement once filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy, stating they copied and installed their virtual reality software on hundreds of thousands of computers.

These notable cases are only scratching the surface of the issues caused by piracy. Believe it or not, most piracy occurs right in our own homes.

How to Tell If Your Software Is Pirated

Even if you don't pirate the software yourself, purchasing software online or receiving software from someone else could be far from the real thing. How can you tell if the software you're using is pirated?

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  • Price: If you are purchasing software online, be sure to check the price first. Software that is on major discount should throw up a red flag.
  • Ease of use: Sure, most software requires a download and activation. However, if the software you choose makes you follow a detailed process to use, it could be pirated.
  • Packaging: Does the software you're using have the correct packaging? Did it come with manuals and all necessary paperwork? If not, the software has probably been used before.
  • Software updates: All legitimate software will include the future updates needed for use. Software that doesn't update could be a pirated copy.

You can report both businesses and individuals you believe to be using or selling pirated software to The Software Alliance online.

The Consequences of Using Pirated Software

Software piracy is illegal. In fact, it's considered direct copyright infringement. Piracy denies the owners of the copyright compensation for the use of their product. And although this is serious enough, there can be severe consequences for using pirated software on your personal computer.

  • Pirated software may infect your computer: Some software that seems safe could actually be malicious, infecting your computer with malware or viruses.
  • It will only update so far: Pirated software can't be updated and may stop working after a certain amount of use. Software that doesn't update properly can leave you open to even more security issues beyond the virus such as data loss.
  • Piracy results in fines and legal trouble: Severe cases of software piracy, such as those that occur in businesses, are often subjected to legal trouble in the form of large fines and prison time.

Software piracy should be taken seriously. Before you purchase software or download software to your computer, be sure to check its authenticity to protect yourself from any repercussions.