You’ve probably heard, one way or the other, about software piracy. It is the mislicensing, unauthorized reproduction and illegal distribution of software, whether for business or personal use. Generally speaking, it means illicit use of software that is normally sold to users. While I’m sure many can think about obviously flagrant examples of this – like walking to a computer store and shoplifting a copy of a program you’d normally pay for – there are more subtle ways of indulging in software piracy, and as it gets more and more into what is called the “gray area”, more and more people seem to justify it. I’ll cover some of these in this article.
Normally every software program is sold with a specific number of licenses – how many computers you can install it on. Different software companies have different mechanisms to prevent abuse in the form of installing software in more computers than the license covers. However they’re not perfect and some of them can be circumvented. That doesn’t mean it’s legal. Don’t install a program by “borrowing” a CD from a friend. And don’t allow for that to happen with the software you own and paid for.
The most often misunderstood term when it comes to software, it’s represents one of the most common forms of software piracy. OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer – For example, when you buy a new computer and get all those CDs with the programs already installed in it – that’s OEM software. It is sold to the company that sold you the computer by the companies that make the software, under specific licensing. Said licensing has its terms. For example, when it comes to Windows operating systems, it is supposed to be sold by the licensed reseller WITH a new computer, and it is irrevocably linked to that computer. What does this mean? It means the operating system cannot be sold by itself. It means it cannot be sold with a different computer, than the originally intended one.
In this scenario it is common practice for unscrupulous resellers to sell the operating system by itself. Why? because of the reseller license, they get it at a lower price and can sell it at a lower price than the retail version and still make a profit. It is also easier to install many more copies than one is supposed to.
One of the sleaziest “circumventions” I’ve seen on this happened to a client of mine recently. The client went to eBay to look for a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 to buy. A seller was offering OEM copies of it for about $60. To try and circumvent Microsoft and eBay’s policies on OEM software, the seller would include some generic piece of “hardware” with the OEM software he was selling, and with that interpretation of the policy he thought he was covered. In this specific case the piece of hardware turned out to be a data cable used inside computers. C’mon! How could that be compared to a full computer or hard disk, like it’s supposed to? I informed the client she needed to return the purchase and get a refund, and the seller got reported to eBay.
This is the most obviously illegal form of software piracy. One of the mechanisms used by software companies to make sure you own an original copy of the software they sell is the use of product or activation keys, a sequence of numbers, letters, or numbers and letters that is to be input during the software installation to validate the installation – make sure it’s legit. This key is normally generated using an algorithm (formula) but it can be cracked by somebody who knows enough about the subject, or who gets a program that does exactly that, created by somebody who knows enough about it. Not only is this completely illegal, but also often times “key cracker” programs and “cracked” versions of programs are available from sources that more likely than not have malware embedded in them, and it’s one of the easiest ways to infect a computer. So if you buy a program from a reseller and you get a CD in the mail with a printout of a product key or a photocopy of the original product key sticker, most likely that key is not legit, whether illegally reproduced or generated with key cracking techniques.
When it comes to buying software (and other things), if it looks too good a deal… it’s probably not legit.
Most users use properly licensed software and are honest. For the minority that don’t, here’s my message to you: Beware. Don’t indulge in software piracy in any form, no matter how justifiable, attractive or tempting; discourage others from doing it and report those who don’t play by the rules. Otherwise it will come back and “byte” you you-know-where.