Piracy is usually determined as a seizure of property (ship, airplane or software) that holds no commission from the owner (“Piracy” 1). It is mostly linked to the dirty, bearded men that sailed the seven seas and robed merchant ships or ships that carried a valuable cargo. This however, was not the case in the late eighties and is definitely not the case today in the nineties. Now software pirates copy software without the permission of the company for their own personal benefits. Since piracy interrupts trade between nations it has been considered to be an offense against international law (“Piracy” 1). While the pirates in the medieval age roamed for plunder on the high seas, pirate radio and television stations broadcast, unauthorized software pirates copy to save money and even if one form vanished, another would soon take its place.
Although the roots of piracy go as far as 102 BC the true sea pirates golden age was between the time periods of the very late 1600’s and the year of 1923 when almost all pirates suddenly disappeared. Pirates attacked the Romans as early as 100 BC. This was not as rough as the future pirates would be, but the idealism of piracy was present. The so-called piracy’s golden age started in 1695 when the first famous pirate, Henry Every, began seizing sizable treasures in the Red Sea and this made him an idol to many unemployed seamen in England. Piracy offered no more risks than being on board an ordinary merchant or privateering (which is often confused with piracy) vessel and the returns could be indescribably greater than in trade or attacking enemy ships. This started an increase in the number of pirates. Soon, in some parts of the world, for example Nassau, there were so many pirate vessels sailing the seas that the trade between the colonies and the outside world was nonexistent because all the goods ended up in the pirate vessels. Although their ways were inhumane and sometimes highly brutal, they had some sort of passion to sail the unknown and break the law to fight a war on the ordinary world. Some pirates were famous for their incredible brutality or for their otherwise colorful personalities: Edward Teach (alias Black Beard), who terrorized the coastline of North Carolina in 1716-1718; Captain Kidd who was more known for his highly publicized trial than his wrongdoings; and Bartholomew Roberts who was the last and the most barbarous pirate captain of the golden age. Before there had been thousands of pirates at large, but after Roberts’ capture, they all disappeared. It was not the lack of plunder because there were still many merchant ships sailing between nations with valuable cargo. Also, the conditions in merchant and navy ships were as severe as before so there was still a great reason to turn to piracy. It was called the golden age because at this time there were more pirates (not to mention the number of the well know pirates) than ever before and their amount of plunder was far greater than any other period in history. From this time period the original term “piracy” got its name and fame.
This statement been said, “Piracy could never be completely gotten rid of.” This is a very true statement. It did take a long time, now pirates have set sail again and this time in cyberspace (The Internet). Their vessels are no longer ships filled with gunpowder and cannons, but desktop and laptop computers. Software piracy has existed as long as software itself, but it has not had a notable effect before the late1980’s. The pirating of software just got easier as hardware became more advanced. The development of the modem has allowed the computer to transmit and receive data. Due to this technological advancement pirates (modern term Hackers) have been able to put pirated software on webpages and websites around cyberspace. These webpages and websites offer the newest and most popular games and programs available for downloading. The downloading and these pages and sites are almost or completely free. This of course is illegal because the game manufacturer has a copyright on the product. The pages or sits are not operated or used by hardened criminals, but youths that just cannot afford the amazingly high priced games and programs. The software companies add to the price of the software because of the losses due to piracy. This then, increases the number of pirates because of the sky rocketing of the prices. Some good has also come out of the pirate webpages and websites; they let people try out the software before actually buying it. Some people (absolutely not all people) commit piracy without even knowing that they are doing something wrong. Young users mostly do this at the ages of nine to fourteen whom innocently copy games from their neighbors, friends, or relatives. Some adults also commit this “innocent” crime just because they do not know anything about computers; they copy a new word processor from their office to take home to use on their personal PC.
However, there are some businesses and firms that deliberately copy software to cut costs or to sell it. These counterfeiter businesses are seen as the primary culprits of committing software piracy (“Software Piracy”10) because they obtain a copy and then pass it around to 10 people and still have it on network. Why is this considered piracy? Because a user has to pay for every used copy and when it is on a network there is only one copy and the whole office is using it. If it is used on 10 machines the company should purchase 10 copies of that software. It doesn’t seem a big deal to copy software, so why care? It sure has not shaken Microsoft, or any other massive company, but smaller companies are the ones that are usually hit hard by piracy. This is because their sales are not as vast and the numbers of pirated software exceeds the legitimate number of software on consumers’ computers, so the small business or company does not get enough profit to keep itself from bankruptcy. This shows how fast a copy of software program can spread and a company’s profit is lost. A friend copies a game from a friend who got it off a pirate bulletin board. This friend then copies the game to the entire computer-owning friends of his and so forth. If all this goes well, you can have 150 copies around a small city or town in a week. This adds up to about $7500 a week in a small city; small companies just cannot afford to lose that much profit per city, at that rate. Currently software companies are trying to rid the world of software piracy, but the problem is vast and cannot be resolved in a day and a night. Even if it was solved, the question remains would it be for the good of the computer industry or would it be for the worst of it. Companies are claiming that if piracy were eliminated, there would be a huge drop in prices. Experts say that if this would happen the cheap alternative companies would gain ground and later control the market. What will happen, remains to be seen.
Although in the United States the Software Publishers’ Association (SPA) took action against 586 organizations last year and netted $2.6 million in penalties, piracy happens worldwide. Since its conception in 1990, SPA has received over $16 million penalties. The money collected by SPA is used to fund an international anti-piracy campaign, including investigations, education, and litigation (Byrd). A SPA estimate that 90% of software used in China is pirated. Piracy fighters are now going worldwide in an international effort to control piracy. According to Business Week, June 5 1995, the top ten world pirates were as follows:
Country Millions lost in US $ % of piracy
United States 2877 35%
Japan 2076 67%
Germany 1875 50%
France 771 57%
Brazil 550 77%
Korea 546 78%
Great Britian 544 43%
Russia 541 94%
China 527 98%
Italy 404 58%
Software Publishers’ Association tracks down hackers through informants, but its primary source is its anti-piracy hotline (800-388-7478). This hotline receives about thirty calls a day from temporary, former, or even disgruntled employees of companies involved in piracy. SPA’s had its first three raids in New York City, on three separate organizations were based on a single temporary employee. I some cases SPA will even obtain a search and seizure order from a court, if litigations are to be brought on a company.
As for solving the problems of piracy, many companies have tried several things. In the late 1980’s companies have simply put devices on their programs and this prevented users from making more than one or two backup copies. This consumed a lot of time inserting the original disk into the computer each time they used the program even with hard drive. This was very unpopular with consumers because it took so much time. Soon the companies just gave up on preventing copying and surrendered themselves to piracy. With the devices they were losing money and other companies were coming on the scene and willing to manufacture without the devices. Computer hackers were also finding it easy to break through the protection and this made distributors uncertain of finding any kind of protection. A Company by the name of Softguard is working on making its security product, which will be more effective. Within the next year it plans to introduce a program that can be customized by each software company, making it difficult for hackers to break. Shareware, a way of payment to the company when they need upgrades and annual fees is a way some companies can use to get back some of the money lost from piracy (Computers in Society 125). There are also many educational tools out on the market today, from the books at you local library to the Internet, to inform one on the dangers of software piracy and how you might be able to help but a stop to it.
Pirate television and radio stations do exist although their number is very small. They are called pirate stations because they are on the air without the authorization from the government because they do not want to pay the registration fees or they broadcast unproved material. They are illegal and are usually cast from a hidden station inside the country’s borders or from just outside of the borderline. It became really important in England to offer an alternative to the Monopoly State of the BBC. Sometimes the stations were used to get across information to protesters and to protest against governments and organizations.
“Most people do not purposely break the law. They would never consider stealing a package of software from the shelf of a retail store. But those who copy software without authorization are also stealing intellectual property and they should understand the consequences of their action. If you are an individual user, don’t break they law. Everyone pays for your crime. If you are part of an organization, see to it that your organization complies with the law, and that it issues an appropriate policy statement that is signed and respected by all involved (Software Publishers’ Association). The sea pirates, the software pirates Hackers and the on the air pirates all have something in common. They all (with the exception of software pirates) do their job for the passion of it. All of these forms are considered illegal because of the losses made to the owner to save costs or to collect prizes (sometimes). Whatever the case, piracy can never be gotten rid of because a new form will show up when another vanishes, history proves that. What will the next form be? Use your imagination.
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Byrd, Kelly V. “Kelly’s Place” Computer and Law http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~kbyrd/piracy.html: Spring 1996.
Software Publishers’ Association. “Software Use and the Law”. http://www.spa.org/piracy/homepage.html: November 20, 1996.
Computers In Society 6th ed. Dushkin Group/Brown&Benchmark Publishers: Guilford, CT, 1996.