Is Your Software Illegal?

By Corbitt, Terry | Management Services, June 1993 | Go to article overview

Is Your Software Illegal?


Corbitt, Terry, Management Services


Many business people do not realise that they are committing a serious offence by using software that they have not obtained from a legitimate source. With the decline in software revenues and profits due to the recession, many software suppliers have become increasingly active against the unauthorised use of their product. The Software Publishers Association (SPA) has estimated that there has been around a 25 percent increase in infringement each year since 1988. The SPA estimate that only 33 percent of the DOS software used in the UK is legal.

Software is not sold to purchasers, they buy a licence to use it. This means that if a user wishes to use software on a different microcomputer she/he must first remove it from the first one before loading it on to the second machine. Recently WordPerfect and Microsoft have introduced a new type of licence whereby users may make an extra copy of a program so that they can use the office software at home to carry on with their work. Some software licences allow the user to make one backup copy of the master disk. Users can sometimes buy a site licence which allows them to make and use, a specified number of copies. A third option is a network licence, this designates the number of users that may access a piece of software. The user must read the fine print to ensure that they know exactly what they are legally allowed to do.

The European Commission has passed a directive on software copyright which member countries had to adopt by 1 January 1993. In this country software copyright is covered by the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 which only required minor changes to meet this requirement.

Some software suppliers are protecting themselves by using dongles (an electronic device that accompanies software to prevent unauthorised copying of programs) or software keys which require the original disk to be accessed at intervals during use. Software houses do not like to introduce features which make their product harder to use as this tends to turn potential users to rival products. A solution that has been introduced by one software house is for every new user of a program to contact the software house the first time that the program is installed. A pass key number is then issued which allows the user to complete the installation. This pass key number can only be used once.

There are two groups that are working to protect the interests of the software producers. These are the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) (0628 660377) which was set up in 1984 by 150 members from the computer industry and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) which was set up in 1988 in the USA by six software houses. Successful action has been taken against the Mirror Group Newspapers and the European for alleged software theft. A raid was carried out in November 1991 on behalf of the BSA.

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