Software Piracy

Software Piracy Defined

Software pirating refers to the unauthorized copying of computer software. In addition to being highly illegal, software piracy is also unethical. Every time a program is copied, income is being taken from the designer, the developer, the distributor and the retailer, whose incomes are dependent on the number of programs sold. Those who make use of illegally copied software are subject to the civil and criminal penalties imposed by Canadian law.

Bill C-60 Copyright Legislation

Bill C-60 became law on June 8, 1988. It represents an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1924. The bill calls for the protection of computer programs as literary work. It states that the owner of a program (not the person who possesses it) has the right to make a single back-up copy for security purposes. In addition, the owner has the right to translate the program into a different language.

Software piracy is subject to heavy fines and a possible jail term. Under Bill C-60, those convicted of a summary offense face up to $25,000 with a maximum jail term of six months. A maximum one million dollar fine and a five year jail term may follow an indictable offense.

Top 10 Reasons for Pirating Software (and why none of them are good enough!!)

We have a responsibility for reminding the community that ownership of intellectual property, such as software, must be protected. Usually, when people are confronted with the notion that they shouldn't be doing this, they respond with one of the following ten arguments. Here are some of the reasons why these arguments are unlikely to hold up if you caught illegally copying software.

I'm allowed to make a backup in case something happens to the original, so I must be allowed to use it on another machine.

While it is true that most software is sold with the stipulation that you can do this, a backup copy is exactly that - a backup copy. Vendors suggest that you use the copy to install the software and then lock away the original. If you do anything other than store the copy for safekeeping, it would be reasonable to assume that you made the copy simply to avoid paying for a second license.

I didn't copy it - a friend gave it to me.

Technically, you are right. In this case, you would not be guilty of illegally copying software, although your friend certainly would. However, since illegally copied software is considered stolen property, you would be just as guilty for receiving stolen property as you would for stealing it in the first place.

My boss/instructor told me to do it so it's my boss's fault, not mine.

So if your boss ordered you to embezzle funds or commit other illegal acts, would you do it? The defense "I was only following orders" is a weak one. It does not work for soldiers who have committed atrocities or for crooked politicians and it will not work if your boss tells you to illegally copy software.

I paid for the software - shouldn't I be able to do what I want with it?

What you have paid for is the license to use the software. Software itself is rarely sold to individuals. The terms of the license are almost always clearly indicated to you on the outside of the package. The terms explicitly state what you can and cannot do with the software. By opening the package, it is assumed that you have read and understood the terms of the license and that you agree to abide by those terms.

It's not as though I'm robbing anyone.

Because software is not a tangible thing that you can hold or pick up, people often do not see it as property. Software is intellectual property just like a book, a song, or an invention. All of these things are owned and can be bought, sold, and licensed. All of them make money for the people who create them. In the case of commercial software, the people who have worked to create these programs do so for a living and in most cases, they are not millionaires. Rather, they are people like you who make their living on the programs you are illegally copying.

It's okay to copy software if it's being used for educational purposes.

Education is certainly not a justification for theft. Many software companies are extremely generous to educational institutions. But this is their prerogative - not an intrinsic right granted to educators simply because they are educators. Also, this generosity, is to a large degree, based on trust. Stealing intellectual property is a violation of this trust and could result in companies discontinuing this practice.

The price of the software was unreasonably high. If I actually had to pay for it, there's no way I could ever afford it.

Software is expensive for the same reason that houses are expensive. Both require highly skilled labor to develop and create. Just as there are many people who require housing and cannot afford it, there are many who need software but cannot pay for it. If a homeless person decided to break into your house and start living there, you would want the authorities to evict that person and they would have to do it. You might feel badly for the homeless person but not to the point of giving up your property rights. Similarly, if a software vendor catches you stealing software they will want to press charges and they will likely win. In fact, their survival may depend on it.

I didn't know it was illegal.

It's your duty to be informed. Software packages carry a copyright notice on the outside of the package and displays a copyright message when you begin loading the program. You would have a tough time convincing a judge that you were unaware that unauthorized copying was illegal.

In the States, software vendors have formed an organization known as the Software Publisher's Association (SPA). The SPA offers rewards for whistle blowers and conducts investigations of software piracy at large organizations. Most of the people who have been caught never thought it could happen to them.

Everybody's doing it.

This argument has been used to justify everything from speeding to lynching. It suggests you have no will of your own. Even so, this is by far the most common argument given for illegally copying software.


The bottom line is simply if you are copying software illegally; stop it. If you see someone else doing it; tell them to stop it. The practice exposes you to liability and jeopardizes your chances of receiving a good, legitimate deal from software vendors.

Unauthorized copying of software deprives developers from a fair return on their products. It also drives up prices, reduces the level of future support, and inhibits the development of new software products.

Some interesting piracy links .....

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1. Supplementary Readings - obtained form Dr. M. Shaw, University of Calgary.

2. Software Copyright, A Guide to the Legal and Ethical Use of Software at the University of Calgary.

3. Top 10 Reasons for Illegally Copying Software. Micro Byte, April 1994.

This page was written by Sandra McCallum.

Last modified March 28, 1996