Will You Get in Trouble for Online Piracy?

What Is Software “Piracy” And Why Is It A Crime?

Software piracy is the unauthorized use, distribution, or copying of copyrighted software. Piracy can take many forms including:

-End-user piracy is when someone uses unlicensed copies of software.
-Client-server overuse is when the number of users connected to the software’s server exceeds the amount defined in the license agreement.
-Counterfeiting is the illegal duplication of downloaded software with the intent of breaking the license agreement.
-Hard-disk loading is when a computer hardware seller loads unauthorized copies of software onto the machines that it sells.
-Online software theft is when someone downloads unauthorized copies of software from the Internet. This can take many forms including using a password/serial generator (i.e. a “crack”) to gain access to protected software.
-License misuse is when software is distributed in channels that are not allowed by the license.


What Is Considered “Unauthorized Use?”

When you purchase a software legally, you are actually just purchasing a license to use the software, not the rights to the software. The license grants you the right to use the software, but still prohibits you from making copies of the software. Any use of the software other than what the license permits is considered “unauthorized use” and is copyright infringement.


How Common Is Software Piracy?

It is estimated that over 19 percent of software used in the United States is unlicensed. Many people are unaware that they are violating copyright laws because they do not have the right software management policies in place.


I Purchased A Single License For A Piece Of Software, Can I Load It Onto Several Different Machines?

Unfortunately, no you cannot. This is called “softlifting,” and is still considered piracy by the law. Whether you share the software with one of your friends or family members, or install the software on a second machine for your own use, it is still a violation of your license agreement and therefore, illegal.


What Are The Consequences Of Breaching A Licensing Agreement?

Beyond the inherent consequences of downloading illegal software (i.e. downloading software that is damaged, incomplete, or make you more vulnerable to cyber attacks), the courts may fine you up to $150,000 per infringement. In the most serious cases, some offenders will face jail time of up to five years as well. The law also permits the destruction of all infringing copies and devices by which the infringing copies have been used (meaning they can destroy your computer if you’re found guilty).


Am I Liable If An Employee Has Installed Illegal Software On An Office Computer Without The Company’s Knowledge?

Yes, you are liable in these situations. It is suggested that you conduct software audits every six months to one year. It is important to introduce business practices that educate your employees about the consequences of breaching software policy.


What About Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Versions Of Software, Can I Install Those?

OEM software is only distributed when sold with the accompanying software. Therefore, it is illegal to download OEM software onto hardware that did not come with the OEM software.


I Have A “Backup Copy” Of My Licensed Program, Can I Give Or Sell This To Other People?

No, “backup copies” are only allowed to be used for archival purposes only. The copy cannot be sold or distributed to another party without the expressed consent of the copyright owner.


I’ve Heard About A “24 Hour” Rule Where You Can Download A Program And Use It For 24 Hours To Determine If I Would Like To Buy It. Is This True?

No, the “24 hour rule” is an urban legend. Under copyright law, "anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner [reproduction, adaptation, distribution to the public, public performance, public display, rental for commercial advantage or importation] is an infringer of the copyright or the right of the author..." - Section 501(a) of the Copyright Act. This means that the second you download unauthorized software, regardless of your intentions, you could be subject to legal action.

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Revised: May 16, 2022, 7:36 a.m.
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