Software Firms Lose Billions to Piracy; Industry Targets Large-Scale Users

Article excerpt

If you own a computer, there's a good chance you're a thief - or have friends who are thieves.

Nothing personal. That's just a blanket summation by software makers, who estimate that 35 percent of the software in use in this country was pirated, or copied illegally. That amounts to a revenue loss of more than $2.4 billion a year.

Worldwide, manufacturers estimate, last year's loss of revenue to pirating amounted to $12.8 billion. It seems that in some countries, hardly anybody buys software.

Some examples, according to manufacturers:

Piracy accounts for about 66 percent (or more) of the software used in such countries as Belgium, Finland, France and Hong Kong. The rate exceeds 80 percent in Mexico, Japan, Israel, Ireland, Spain, Chile and the Czech Republic.

In Russia, China, Pakistan, Peru and Kuwait, the rate is in the high 90s. That means that only a few software copies are sold for each 100 users of the program.

Working to reduce piracy are two industry organizations - the Software Publishers Association and Business Software Alliance (BSA). BSA educates computer users against piracy and works to get laws passed overseas to bar the practice.

The enforcement of BSA's anti-piracy policies is directed by Bob Kruger, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington. Kruger, who visited St. Louis a few days ago, said that piracy activity in Missouri is comparable to that in most states. (California ranks as the worst offender.)

He added that six firms in Missouri were being investigated and that four were being audited for use of pirated software. But he gave no company names.

The United States has laws against software piracy, but they are limited. Kruger said a violation is a felony if 10 or more copies are involved, if they are valued at $2,500 or more and if the copying was done within six months. If the infringement falls short of those measures, then the instance is considered a misdemeanor, he said.

"The purpose of the laws is to stop large-scale misuse," he said. "If a company has 100 computers for use in tasks that are similar, it is possible to use one software program for the 100 machines.

"But that, in a sense, is just taking money out of the pocket of the software maker - lots of money. The 100-to-1 ratio is not necessarily inflated. It happens.

"On the other hand, I know of no instances in which the owner of a single machine has been prosecuted if he happened to acquire some pirated ware. …