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Software Piracy is the act of copying, reproduction, and distribution of software without authorization. It also includes violating a license through installation of software on many computers, overuse of the software and learners purchasing educational software, and distributing it to their friends or family members (Microsoft, 2014, 1). Majority of software programs are authorized to be used in one computer, or by one particular user at a particular time. A software buyer becomes a licensed user and not the owner. The licensed user is allowed to make copies of the software programs only for purposes related to backup. Making and giving copies to colleagues and friends is regarded as piracy.
For many years, it has been difficult to eliminate software piracy, although there have been increasing lawsuits, and penalizations against inflators by software companies. Copy protecting software was one measure that was used by software companies in curbing software piracy. However, this strategy did not succeed since it inconvenienced users and was not 100% foolproof (Business Software Alliance, 2010, 2).
In accord to the report issued by the International Data Corporation in 2008, software piracy has resulted into a huge loss of revenue for software companies. In addition, many IT related jobs are also lost each year because of the growing trend of software piracy. The report stipulated that if the global software piracy levels fell by 10 points in a four-year span, then more than 600,000 jobs would be availed in the IT industry. On the other hand, the 10-point reduction on the level of software piracy could lead to a rise of an additional $25 billion in global government revenues without necessarily raising taxes (BAS, 2008, 1). In essence, there are numerous arguments, which support the two sides of the issue. In most cases, those who are against software piracy are those who stand to lose most, including the copyright holders. According to them, piracy can be considered theft, simple and plain. Downloading the software without having to pay for it may be equaled to the virtual stuffing a CD under a shirt and eloping without being seen by anyone. This paper presents an argument on the ethical, social, legal and professional issues involved in software piracy.
Today, many people around the world are increasing finding it easy to obtain the software program without having to buy it. This may be inform of borrowing from friends, copying or illegally downloading it from the internet. Copyright infringement is illegal in many states around the world. Even in countries, which have not yet established legal measures that protect copyrighted software, various compelling ethical issues could be considered both for, and against software piracy.
The moral arguments may be traced back from the time of Plato. One major argument in this respect is that of British writer W. D. Ross, who claimed in his book "The Right and the Good" published in 1930 that the obligation to obey the country’s laws partly comes up with the responsibility of gratitude for the good one has received from it. If a person understands the essence of keeping the country’s laws, and that there are laws, which prohibit software piracy such as the Digital Millennium Copyright ACT (DMCA) in U.S, well intending citizens should not so.
Another moral aspect that may emanate from the use of pirated software is the revenue loss to the one who created the software. If the software creators fail to receive enough money for their work, this will hinder their endeavor in designing new software or improving the existing ones. This will subsequently lead to lesser software to be created or developed and lack of improvement for the existing ones.Brian (1998), points out that approximately 82% of the software that is being used in China is pirated. Those advocating for eradication of software piracy may ask themselves the amount of revenue which software companies in China lose every year (2)
Arguments in favor of software piracy
Those who argue in favor of software piracy postulate that the cost of software licenses may be the same in many places of the world, but the wages greatly differ over the world. Citizens in countries with lower GDP per capita may therefore, find it harder to buy the software. This aspect may be considered not to be fair for such people as well as other emerging economies. Deriving an example from China, Bill Gates, and Microsoft’s CEO was once quoted as saying, “As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They will get sort of addicted, and then we will somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.” Here, the loser of software piracy (Microsoft) seems to be condoning it to some extent.
Another ethical dilemma, which may be considered in this respect is the theory of consequentialism. The Consequentialism principle stipulates that, the consequence of a particular action is the foundation of a compelling moral judgment concerning a particular action. Traian Basescu, the President of Romania stirred his audience by using a consequentilist argument in 2010 when he said, "piracy assisted young generation in discovering computers. Further, it set out the development of the IT industry in Romania" (Andersen, 2010, 34).
Many software users in relation to media creators consider piracy as being ethically neutral, if not ethically allowed. The core argument may be derived from the example I have already given above that stealing a CD from a dealer leads to loss of valuable, and physical property. On the other hand, pirating software only includes writing a string of 1s and 0S to a hard drive and that no material property is lost or changes hands. According to them, the definition of theft includes removal of tangible, and real property. Piracy is therefore, not theft.
Certainly, a person with a clearer view may be able to provide a cleaner perspective of both sides of the arguments. The two sides have the basis for presenting their arguments. However, in choosing for my own feelings regarding this matter, I will have to apply the basic principle which I think may not be refutable, Immanuel Kant’s Universal Law. Kant argues that, for a particular action, choice, or behavior to be considered as being ethically valid, it must be ethical and practical in a hypothetical sense that all people were to do it. The relation to this aspect on software piracy is obvious. If one obtains software without paying for it, the worst such a person could have done is depriving the owners of their revenue if they could have bought the same products. However, if all people were able to download the software instead of buying it, the software creators would generate no income from their creations.
Social Issues in Relation to Software Piracy
Researchers have come up with findings that the culture, users and the social economic status determines the tendency towards software piracy. Some of the factors to be taken into consideration when evaluating the cultural impact of piracy include education, parenting, socialization and religion. These factors determine the user’s tendency in engaging in software piracy. However, they cannot be considered as the only factors however, the government structure and laws also assist a lot in determining the readiness of the users (Bryan, 2000, 26). There are also studies, which have established that Eastern and Western societies perceive software piracy in different ways. Additionally, both developing and developed nations have divergent views. For instance, most of the Western cultures place greater value in individual rights as well as a liberal government system. They also embrace the extant local laws.
It is even more surprising that most software piracy may not be related to the economic situations of the person pirating the software. Rather, software piracy has been regarded as a large social issue since most of the people who pirate software do so for social reasons, with various economic and social damages. Major social factors include support for another countries’ software industry, peer pressure, individualism verses collectivism, and the chance of being caught. Studies have pointed out that the value of an individual’s friends, family, and community, around them determines how they perceive software piracy (Bryan, 2000, 2). This may appear obvious as friends and family influence most of an individual’s values. For instance, if an individual were brought up in a family that does not condone software piracy, there would be likelihood for such a person to also oppose software piracy.
Studies have also found out that the societies’ perspective concerning collectivism, and individualism impact the rates of software piracy. For example, a society that harbors a belief that an individual is more important in comparison to collective community such as Western societies tends to have low level of piracy rates. This may be due to the fact that societies that are individualistic have a belief that individuals are more important, hence, would feel liable to pay for other people’s work. On the other hand, collective societies for example China have a belief that the benefits of a collective society are significant than raising an individual’s wealth. Consequently, most Chinese are more willing to pirate software. This is because they belief that the community benefits of doing so are more crucial that the wealth of a multibillion dollar businesses (Brian, 1998, 3).
This problem of software piracy may not be easily eliminated because of the diversity on its participants, from private CD writers, large-scale companies, and so on. Essential steps could however, be taken to combat piracy and re-use of software. Software piracy has been compared with jaywalking in the sense that although it is a common problem, it is not effectively punished. Swift punishment and immediate prosecution is bound to discourage software pirates from involving themselves on the vice. Another strategy is to control the medium that is used by modern software pirates in selling and buying. This would also include control in the sale of black CDs and CD writers.
Legal Issues in Software Piracy
Countries that have been effective in protecting their software piracy are those that have set out proper methods and laws that ensure protection of intellectual property. Lack of such laws or laxity in enforcement as seen in most African and Asian countries have been mostly associated with the rising cases of software piracy in the concerned countries. However, these require effort from both national governments and software companies or copyright owners (Conner, and Rumelt, 1991, 139). U.S and UK are two counties that can be used as an example of countries with effective laws and methods for protecting intellectual property.
Most countries indeed consider software piracy as breaking the law as it is stealing another person’s work. Although it may not be realized, development of software involves a team effort, which blends creative talents and ideas of writers, programmers and graphic artists. In the perspective of U.S, computer software is protected under the copyright laws just like music, books and films. When a user purchases software, he or she does not become the copyright owner of that software. Rather, he is only purchasing the right to use the software under specific restrictions that are imposed by the copyright owner, who is typically the software publisher. In most cases, the user is required to load the software onto a single computer and make only a back up copy. Copying, distributing or installing the software in unauthorized ways, whether by swapping disks with colleagues, friends or duplicating amounts to violation of U.S copyright laws. This also includes assisting someone else make unauthorized copies. In essence, software piracy is considered a serious offense under U.S copyright laws and the one-caught violating copyright laws are held liable under civil and criminal laws (Business Software Alliance, 2004, 12).
It was also recently when U.S passed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act that includes various provisions for protection of intellectual property. Offenders can be fined up to $150,000 per civil infringement or up to $250,000 and five years imprisonment for criminal infringement. One found infringing the rights of intellectual property may be immediately stopped by the copyright owner and requested to pay for monetary damages. The copyright owner may decide on the actual damages that may include the lost amount due to infringement, and the attributable damages to the infringement. These can be as much as $150,000 for every copied program (U.S. Copyright Office. 2008)
In the perspective of UK on the other hand, section of 107(A) of the copyright, designs and Patents Act 1988 gives a special anti piracy agency UK Trading Standards, authority and powers to inspect any premise that is suspected to be performing illegal copyright activity. UK also passed a Digital Economic Act in 2010, which was aimed at protecting the copyright owners from copyright infringement. This act requires copyright owners to compile the lists of internet protocol IP addresses where they belief that copyright has been infringed upon. They then send a copyright infringement report alongside the evidence of these infringements to the particular Internet Service Provider (ISP) (Andersen, 2010, 17).
The ISP is mandated to review the evidence provided, and if it meets the set standard, notifies the identified subscribers. ISP keeps a record of all the identified subscribers, and gives notifications, and if a specific threshold is reached currently (standing as three), their IP addresses are included in a copyright infringement list. This list is usually undisclosed and the owner can seek a court order for it to be disclosed. The copyright owner against the subscribers may then initiate copyright infringement proceedings. UK’s digital economy act has increased the penalty for software piracy to a minimum of £50,000 up from 5,000 recommended by Gowers review. It also gives the secretary of state the power to order ISPs to implement technical measures to users who attain the infringement thresholds. Such measures may include but not limited to shaping, bandwidth capping or temporary account suspension (Andersen, 2010, 28).
It is quite interesting that China, just like America and UK have laws that protect the intellectual property of copyright owners. The massive country has also entered into major international copyright treaties including the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and the Berne Convention. These treaties set minimum standards for copyright regulation. Under such agreements, writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers have automatic rights for their works. They are not required to register for their trademark. In most aspects, China’s anti-piracy laws are almost similar to that of U.S. An official agency is charged with copyright regulation, and penalizes offenders. However, there are many aspects, which make China’s anti piracy laws to differ with that of U.S. For instance, the U.S doctrine of fair use is not available in China. Additionally, China has much more laxity in implementing or enforcing copyright laws in comparison to U.S or U.K. In fact, U.S Trade representative have numerously termed China’s copyright enforcement regime as being a no deterrent, and ineffective. Copyright infringement that is not for profit is not criminalized in China unlike U.K or U.S. In addition, civil suits damages are so low that most bootleggers are not dissuaded from breaking the law. This points to the reason why there is widespread piracy in the country (Alford, 2014, 7).
The Business Software alliance reports that the rate of software piracy in Africa stands at 80%. Zimbabwe is the most affected country where that rate is at 92 percent. In such countries, there are always proliferations of unlicensed or counterfeit software that are availed at small prices. This ultimately makes many people find it unnecessary to buy original software when they can find pirated ones at cheaper price. This phenomenon could be attributed to the fact that similar to China and other Asian nations, copyright laws in Africa are poorly implemented even when relevant laws are enshrined. With the exception of few countries such as South Africa, many African governments have been slow to enforce anti- software piracy laws. In addition, the legal frameworks in many of these governments are many years old, and require to be updated in order to adapt to the current digital economy.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which is claimed to be the largest scientific, and educational computing society states that, any person who wish to join the society ought to accept the code of professional conducts and ethics which cover all ethical issues in the software piracy. In number 1.5 of this code, code members are required to honor property rights including patents, and copyrights. Violation of patents, copyrights, trade secrets and license agreement terms is in most cases against the law and expectations of ACM. Even with no protection of the software, these violations contradict the professional behavior and expectations of ACM. Software copies should only be made under appropriate authorization. Members under all circumstances should not condone duplication of authorized materials. Additionally, computing professionals are required to protect the integrity of intellectual property. Number 1.6 in the code stipulates that, it is against the professional expectations for one to take credit of other people’s idea even in situations where the work has no explicit copyright protection (ACM, 2014, 1).
The British Computer Society (BCS) on the other hand is a body mandated to set regulations and professional standards on how its members ought to behave in professional matters. These standards are however, higher in comparison to the general laws, and are enforced through disciplinary measures which may include expulsion from membership. In respect to software rights, BCs members are required to respect to the legitimate rights of copyright owners, which included unlawful disclosure, patents, copyrights, identity theft and intellectual property (CIT, 2011, 4).
All in all, IT professionals should act as an example in upholding and enforcing ethical use of IT, and other software irrespective of whether there are laws enacted against it in their respective jurisdictions or not. A professional in the IT is expected to be concerned and report on illegal acts, negligence, abuse or dangerous acts, which may threaten the public interest.
Despite the fact that there can be legitimate, but arguable defenses for piracy, there is at least one point that is clear concerning its ills. It is only in rare cases where a person may pirate software under legitimate exceptions rather than just being lazy or cheap. Artists and software creators deserve to be paid for their effort, time and talent. Pirates deliberately deprive them of their deserved payments.