Busted software pirates walk plank in Texas
By 07/06/2000 00:00:00
RUSTY WELLER/Ellis County Press Managing Editor
Yo, ho, ho! Software pirates in Ellis County may soon walk a financially painful plank as others have across Texas.
The long arm of the law is catching up with companies and agencies that use illegal software. Five Texas companies agreed to pay a combined total of $750,000 last week for having unlicensed copies of programs installed on their computers.
And that's just the tip of the mast for those caught flying the Jolly Roger above the Lone Star State. The Business Software Alliance offers a hotline - 1-888-NoPiracy - in search of more culprits. Ellis County computer users are urged to double check their computers.
Software piracy is not just unethical; it´s a crime. Although not knowingly aware of it, many companies are engaged in software piracy every day from the moment their employees boot up their computers.
For such companies and organizations, software piracy can lead to huge fines and unfavorable publicity. Small businesses that depend on computers for their products are finding themselves suddenly out of business.
Companies are at risk of copyright infringement claims if they use software from an unlicensed source or if more users have access to the software than its license allows. Also, employees who load unlicensed software on their workstations can create serious liability for their employers.
Some local businesses consciously choose to cut corners by installing unregistered copies so they don't have to pay for extra licenses. People loan or 'donate' their programs to a business while keeping the legitimate copy for themselves. Others buy a used computer and believe the software it contains belongs to them too. And a few outlaws brazenly duplicate and pass around bootleg CDs for spiteful fun and profit.
Many Ellis County business leaders, though, aren't aware their employees are using illegal software. Someone they trust says, 'Hey, it's okay. Don't worry about it.'
But as management of North American Medical Management of Texas learned, what you don't know can hurt you: The HMO management firm in Houston agreed to pay $434,489 for 'softlifting' -- having undocumented copies of Adobe, Corel, Microsoft and Symantec software.
'After being contacted by the BSA, we conducted a thorough investigation and found that we would not support adequate documentation for some of the software we're running,' said NAMM Executive Director Peter Kindrachuk. 'We took immediate steps to rectify the oversight and worked diligently with the BSA to make sure that this problem does not reoccur.'
Other Texas companies busted a total of $750,876 in fines for unlicensed software this past week include:
* Wendy Lopez & Associates, a Dallas engineering firm, paid $66,387.
* FundsXpress, Austin's Internet banking company, paid $100,000.
* Texas Careers, a San Antonio computer company, paid $66,387.
* Shell Federal Credit Union of Deer Park paid $50,000.
'The use of unlicensed software in the workplace is intolerable and must be stopped,' said BSA Vice President of Enforcement Bob Kruger. 'BSA strongly encourages Texas companies to examine their current software licenses and software management policies to avoid becoming a target of a future BSA investigation. Once the BSA knocks on your door, it's too late.'
Software piracy is punishable by statutory damages of up to $100,000 for each work infringed and may result in a felony conviction. Penalties for felony convictions include fines of up to $250,000 (US) and imprisonment for up to five years.
According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the annual estimated loss due to piracy is $13.1 billion (US) worldwide, with a loss of $2.9 billion in the United States alone. Ultimately, software piracy results in the loss of tax revenues, jobs, and growth in the software industry.
There are five basic types of software piracy:
* 'Softlifting' -- the creation of unauthorized copies by a licensed user for the use of fellow employees, colleagues or friends, contrary to the terms of the license agreement.
* 'Hard Disk Loading' -- the unauthorized creation and loading of copies of software programs onto the hard disks of computers by hardware dealers.
* 'Bulletin Board Piracy' or 'Internet Piracy' -- the illegal transmission and posting of copyrighted software programs to computer bulletin boards, from on-line services or via electronic mail.
* 'Counterfeiting' -- the illegal duplication and sale of copyrighted software that is designed to appear legitimate.
* 'Software Rental' or 'Mail Order Clubs' -- the rental of software alone or installed on a computer which is, in turn, rented for a specific time period.