Piracy Pitfalls
The Evolution of Software Piracy
The problem of software piracy is growing in significance, evolving with time and technological advancements. Early computer hackers made copies of program codes and then supplied the copies to other users. Piracy was an easy crime to commit. Most software had little or no copyright protection. But because technology was limited, piracy had little impact. In order to get a bootlegged copy, you had to know a pirate or someone with access to pirated software. When companies first began placing software on compact discs, few computer users had CD burners with which to make bootlegged copies. This limited the amount of consumer theft of software.

For years, stores or businesses that used or sold pirated software were the focus of criminal investigations of software piracy. Law enforcement viewed the theft of software by kids as a minor crime. The bootlegging of games and other programs was not taken seriously. That has changed.

With the universal availability of the Internet, anyone can have access to sites from which pirated software can be downloaded. Also, high-speed data access and peer-to-peer file sharing now mean that even the largest programs can be easily copied or downloaded on the Internet. Improved technology has fueled the proliferation of software piracy. The resulting losses to software companies are now too great to ignore. Software companies large and small suffer over $3.2 billion worth of losses yearly due to software piracy.
The Law of Software Piracy
Software piracy is illegal in California under Penal Code Section 350. The law makes it a felony, punishable by either two, three, or five years in state prison, to take a trademarked product worth more than $400 and copy it without the trademark owner's permission.

Individuals commit software piracy when they obtain and use a piece of software that they did not purchase the required license to use. Whether the software is copied at work, at school, at a best friend's house, or directly off the Internet, if you fail to pay for the licensed version of the program, you have stolen it.

Consumers should be aware, however, that some software - called Freeware - is available for free. The use of other software - called Shareware - may or may not have a cost. If you try a program and like it, you pay for it. However, most software used on a daily basis is not free. It requires a license to use and own.
How Kids Commit Software Piracy

Taking advantage of download sites that peddle bootlegged software, like the one depicted above, is the most common way youths engage in software piracy. Usually hosted on a private network or outside of the United States, download sites allow users to access and download software where security protections have been removed or compromised. The sites often contain not only large commercial programs like Adobe Illustrator and Microsoft Office, but also games, game cheats, or crack codes.
The Dangers of Downloading Pirated Software
Often the bootlegged program comes with an invasive Trojan horse or virus that allows hackers to access your computer or to use the downloaded software as a base to launch a "denial of service" attack on another computer system, effectively shutting down an entire system for users. In other words, by downloading pirated software, your son or daughter could get a lot more than they bargained for. Having downloaded a pirated program, your computer may now contain a virus that can erase all your files or, worse yet, be controlled by a hacker who can commit Internet crimes that may be linked back to you.

Pay sites pushing pirated software operate from File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers or retail sites such as online auction houses. These sites will send you a copy of a program on CD for a price much less than the regular retail price. For example, a pirated CD of the Windows Operating System sells for $19, five times less than the legitimate retail price.

These download sites add some serious risks for the consumer looking for a good deal. First, providing a name and mailing address or sending a check to a site peddling pirated software is an invitation to identity theft. If pirates are willing to steal from businesses, why would they stop at stealing your identity? Second, the product you get is often not what you wanted. The cheap Windows XP could easily be an inferior version that expires after 30 days. If you are unhappy with the program or if it is defective and crashes your computer, you have no one to call for help or make a complaint to because you bought stolen merchandise.
Softloading is when someone buys a legitimate software program and then allows others to make copies of the software beyond the scope of the license. This is a pervasive crime - over 25 percent of all software in America is pirated. Limiting the copied software's distribution to just friends and family does not make the distribution legal. Though far less serious than mass marketing pirated software, softloading is a crime; and it is important that computer users - both children and adults - understand that.
How to Check for Pirated Software
Search the computer used by your child for popular file programs that were not loaded on your computer when you bought it. Some commonly stolen programs are listed below. To conduct a search, follow the instructions for your operating system. Enter the names of the programs from this list. If your computer is loaded with programs that you did not buy, ask your child about the questionable software.
The Most Commonly Stolen Programs

Software Name

Full Product


Photoshop $599.99 $149.99
Illustrator $424.99 $149.99
PageMaker $479.99 $79.00
Premier $589.99  
Windows XP $199.00 $99.00
Office $419.99  
PC Anywhere $179.95  
Norton Utilities $99.95 PC
$129.95 MAC
FileMaker Pro 6 $299.00 $149.00
Studio MX $899.00 $199.00 Academic
Dreamweaver MX $399.00  
Fireworks MX $299.00  
Once you've searched for these frequently pirated programs, seek out other programs you do not recognize. Open programs that you are not familiar with and ask your child what purpose they serve and how they were obtained, the way you would if an expensive piece of jewelry or some other valuable item suddenly appeared in your child's room.

Many of the largest software vendors provide sites that allow you to check to see whether the software on your computer is legal. The Business Software Alliance provides a free download that will provide you with an audit of all software on your system.
Sites to Check for Legitimacy
  1. http://global.bsa.org/usa/antipiracy/tools/software.phtml
  2. http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/
  3. http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/antipiracy/main.html
GAMEZ - The Pirated Version of Games
Games constitute a large amount of available pirated software. If your kids are playing games using a CD that was not commercially produced, it is probably an illegal copy. CDs with handwritten or homemade labels are telltale signs of pirated software. Remember that even if your child was given a copy by someone else, it is still a theft under the law.
Can Games or Software Be Traded Lawfully?
Kids can lawfully share software. Just as a child can loan a bike to a friend to use, kids and adults can loan or give a licensed copy of a software program to someone else to try. Encourage your child to share software by providing the original CD and manual and removing the program from his or her computer. Keep in mind, the program can be used lawfully only on one computer at a time.
Where Can Kids Go to Download Freeware/Shareware and Learn More About Computers?
Computer clubs called "PUGS" (PC User Groups) and "MUGS" (Macintosh User Groups) provide a venue for computer users to chat, learn Web design, learn computer programming, download free games and software, and get sound computer advice. Most clubs have no membership fees, and many meet both online and in person to exchange ideas.
  • To find a MUG, click here.
  • To find a PUG, click here.
  • To download Freeware and Shareware programs and games, click here.