The Computer Piracy Superhighway

By Poth, Tanya | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Computer Piracy Superhighway


Poth, Tanya, Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary

With the current technology available through Internet services and the ability to exchange and update computer software in an instant, corporations that deal in the production and marketing of computer software are becoming increasingly concerned with the amount of software and copyright loss of profits occurring through product piracy.(1) Additionally, corporations are becoming more aware of possible sanctioning if caught in the act of using pirated software. Internationally, governments are being educated on the detrimental effects this piracy has on their economy. Yet, little policing power and economic recovery is currently available. Although a number of private and governmental agencies are beginning to surface with the mission of creating better protection, the international intellectual property arena must develop a more effective stance in the coming years.

Section one of this article delineates the basic concerns of international piracy through a discussion of general statistics regarding lost profits and gives tangible examples of litigation surrounding corporations caught using illegal software. Section two sets a historical perspective of the computer software industry and examines the important international treaties currently in force to help curb the situation. Section three discusses the difficulties in attempting to lower current piracy rates. Section four considers the types of international protections currently being tested or proposed for the future. Finally, section five concludes with what should occur in the next decade to ensure that the problem of computer software piracy dramatically declines. The time is ripe for an international convention specifically addressing the following issues: (1) solidifying choice of law questions; (2) establishing what bodies will be responsible for hearing cases; and (3) creating enforcement strategies to hold countries accountable.

B. General Statistics

What do the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union,(2) an enormous number of small retailers in the Philippines,(3) and Glorious Sun Enterprises Ltd.,(4) a local garment manufacturer in Hong Kong, have in common? They have all recently settled suits brought against them by private international organizations(5) whose goals are to seek out users of illegally copied computer software.

Computer software theft has become a criminal act of worldly proportions with the technological boom of Internet use and the breakdown of digital boundaries that cannot be tangibly seen or determined. Current statistics on lost revenue worldwide from computer software piracy place the loss to industry at an estimated $11 billion(6) (US) for 1998.(7) Domestically, 25% of United States business software packages were pirated last year, "while 38% was stolen worldwide."(8)

Although piracy shows no discrimination as to who is capable of loss in terms of socio-economic standards, political stance, or organizational affiliation, major contributing nations to the world market are showing the highest percentages of pirated software.(9) Although the United States is generally hardest hit (with losses averaging $3.2 billion during 1998),(10) the international arena hosts significant losses in countries all over the world. "After the US, the countries contributing the highest dollar losses due to software piracy in 1998 were China, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Brazil, Italy, Canada, and Russia."(11) Additionally, "[t]he losses from these ten countries (including the US) made up 67% of worldwide losses, or $7.3 billion."(12) The most pirated computer software products worldwide not surprisingly belong to the world's largest maker of computer software, Microsoft Corp).(13) The corporation's two most prominent products, Office 97 and Windows 98, continually prove to be the most illegally copied Internet entities.(14)

A comparison may also be drawn regarding the amount of pirated products currently available on the market of several countries. …

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