How To Avoid Prosecution for Software Piracy

Primary tabs

What is software piracy anyway?

Any commercial software package that requires some sort of licensing fee is considered pirated software if the company or individual using it is not paying all initial and recurring licensing fees.

In Australia, 25% of all software has not been properly licensed and there are entities out there that actually pay your employees (or people you sacked last month) a handsome amount if they dob you in for using unregistered software. Some sources mention up to $20.000 in awards for the person making a simple phone call.

EULAs

Interestingly enough, pretty much every software comes with a so-called End-User-License-Agreement (aka EULA). If you were to read that EULA closely, you would most likely never click the "Accept" button but run away from it as fast as you can. Embedded in pages of legal gobbledegook (Wikipedia says in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gobbledegook gobbledegook is any text containing jargon or especially convoluted English that results in it being excessively hard to understand or even incomprehensible) the software manufacturer basically guarantees nought and if

  • you don't like the program or
  • it doesn't do anything useful or
  • it crashes after you added the 101st entry into the database, deleting everything in its wake or
  • it gives you the wrong answers even though your input numbers are correct

you are totally on your own! You can ring their support line or write them an email and they might help you out. That is, if you have a current maintenance contract in place.

One of the worst examples would be Apple's iTunes EULA. Last time they forced me to accept it (or I would never get any updates for my apps) it was a whopping 83 pages long. My guess is that less than one in a thousand users actually read the lot. Yes, you can have it mailed to you and read it later, only it's too late by then since you have to accept it before you get updates.

Why are we doing it?

For most businesses and individuals, the answer is simple and two-fold: we either cannot or don't want to afford paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for software, or, we simply don't know how many copies of MS Office or Photoshop have been installed in our company. Many just pass on their installation CD to the new employee to use.

The trend

According to the international watchdog for piracy, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Australians are pretty honest and "only" one in four copies (25%) are illegal, down one percentage point from the previous year. The worldwide average sits at 43%. Yet the BSA works hard to further reduce this number, since they make a living out of it. If they could lower it by another 10 percentage points, they are predicting an additional US$1.9 billion in economic growth in Australia. However, they don't mention how much they get for their effort. Most of the software we are using comes from the US and hence we would be sucking additional billions of dollars out of Australia's small businesses (95.6% of all 2 million businesses in Oz are considered small) and cable them overseas. Great idea.

The options

There are only two ways out of this: pay up or go somewhere else. If you are not willing or afraid of any changes to the software environment you are using today, our "friends" from the BSA are quick to help by offering links to third party tools that you can install. Some of them are even free to use, go figure...

Option number two is using software that has no license fees or maintenance fees associated with them. So-called open-source software or software that is in the "public domain" is free for anyone for private and commercial use. Some free software is limited by the number of users you can have ro the size of the database. This is generally not a problem for most small businesses. Keep in mind that some commercial software, like Oracle databases, are also based on the size of the files you are using.

Support can be had around the clock online via mailing lists or web-based user forums. If you sleep better at night if you have a telephone number to ring if your open source software is not behaving, there are companies out there providing commercial support for you, generally for a fraction of what the maintenance and support fees are for the big players. Quite often, those companies are involved in the programming of the software itself and make a living through the support fees you pay them.

Now changing from a commercial Microsoft Windows-based environment to a free operating system and open source applications should not be one huge plunge into the deep end of the pool. Rather, wet your toes in the shallow areas first and see you get along replacing, for example, MS Exchange with CommuniGatePro. That way, little will change for the end-users and their desktop software. Later, you can replace Outlook with e.g. Thunderbird, a very popular mail and calendar client. Eventually, you can ditch every Microsoft license you have and install Ubuntu on all machines. Again, this is only an example and there are many other options out there. The examples are just the pieces I've been using here at surecity for more than 10 years and never looked back.