Software Piracy Essay, Research Paper
Software Piracy(Canadian essay)by maryanne
“?. I want to impress upon honourable gentlemen who are not lawyers the fact that the question of copyright is of importance not only to lawyers, but to many people in the country1.” Copyright is, literally, the “right to copy”. The Canadian Copyright Act gives copyright owners the sole right to reproduce, perform or issue a work2. This ensures that the creators have total control over their work and benefit completely from what they have created whether this is monetary or otherwise. However, with advances in technology, it has become easier and easier to infringe on copyright. One of the primary ways this has been done
is by software piracy: the illegal distribution or copying software for personal or organizational use. The illegal copying of software is one of the computer industry’s most serious problems. Software piracy has grown over time and continues to grow each year. It threatens software companies, jobs, and causes a fluctuation in software price. Software copying is wrong but is almost impossible to completely stop.
Understanding how software piracy came about is a very important aspect of understanding this major problem. When computers were first being used, the major cost in computing was the hardware. Software was relatively cheap and often unique to the physical environment in which it was running. Computer users were generally programmers who had the knowledge to develop their own software, or use the software that came free with the computer or another source. As computer technology grew, software became more important because computer users were no longer just programmers anymore. People then paid programmers to develop software for those who were less experienced users. This was after people had gotten used to the idea that software was obsolete and could be used and copied to their own disposal. Along with this, people were used to coping audiotapes or movies off TV because they had the technology to do so readily available.
The software industry is one of the fastest expanding sectors in the global economy. Illegal copying of domestic and international software cost the software industry 13.1 billion dollars (US) globally in 19954. The losses have caused many software companies to struggle to stay alive by devising products that are unable to be copied. Software theft has destroyed creative advancements in computer technology by taking away the financial incentive to develop new software. Software piracy threatens the jobs of many people in the computer industry. Apart from this, copying software is counter-productive, as it causes the price of commercial software to increase. In reaction to this software companies and anti-piracy organizations, such as Business Software Alliance (BSA), have put pressure on governments around the world to make the appropriate changes to their copyright laws. These organizations patrol the World Wide Web for illegal activity involving software piracy. With actions such as these, it was hoped that software piracy would become less popular than it is at the moment. However software copying is extremely difficult to track down and the amount of attention the police pay to it is still very low.
The patent system is one of the most important aspects of copyright law. A patent is a document issued from the government that describes an invention. Under patent law in Canada, the patent protects the inventor, or patent owner, and gives them the right not to have their invention reproduced, used or sold within Canada for twenty years after patent is filed3. If the patent was obtained in Canada, the protection it gives is applicable throughout Canada. For protection in other countries, an application must be made in each individual country. There is also the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) as an option, which provides standardized protection within many countries, such as Japan or the US. Although a patent is useful for such things as a toy or medication, it has not been very practical to the software industry. The high tech industry does not fully use the patent system, mainly because of the long amount of time (about three years) to obtain the patent and the high costs involved to litigate, maintain and protect a patent. It almost seems counter-productive when it is most probable that the software will be obsolete and out-dated by the time the patent is obtained.
On April 25, 1997, Bill C-32, an Act to Amend the Copyright Act, was completed5. Bill C-32 was the first major revision of Canada’s Copyright Act since 1988. This Bill took a year of intense preparation by the parliament. “Copyright reform is a cornerstone of this government’s commitment to strengthen the economic foundation of Canada’s cultural sector?” said Minister Copps. Among the changes in Bill C-32 is a passage referring to the laws pertaining to software copying, such as the right to make a single copy of an authorized program for the person’s own use6. If, however, a person has distributed software illegally, causing software companies to lose money, they can be charged. Litigation, raids, and audits are all means employed against persons and entities suspected of violating copyright laws protecting computer software. But even with the current changes there are still many loopholes in the Act such as one’s right to make a reproduction for backup purposes. Little notice is made to the way that people use or distribute their software, and with leniency towards the issue by society as a hole, this problem continues as much now as it did before Bill C-32.
Software is referred to as “intellectual property” under the Copyright Act. This distinguishes it from physical property, which would be a tangible object. The physical and intellectual parts of a certain creation are separate entities. For example, the physical component to a car is the car itself but the intellectual component would be the sketches, plans for the engine, or its name. When buying the car you have no other right other than using it. It would be illegal to copy the design and put it out into the market. That right is given to the patent owner. It is important that ideas and intellectual thought is protected just as much as a physical object. The fact that a large number of people do not think it is particularly wrong to copy software questions why society respects materials more than it would an intellectual process.
Many computer users are young people without a lot of money to spend on software. Shareware, Freeware and Public Domain are three different types of software that are easily available to end-users. These all have their own rules about the means by which the software can be used, copied or distributed. Shareware, Freeware and Public Domain refer to demo computer programs or games that are sold at a low cost or are free on the Internet. After a certain amount of time many of these require a payment to get the complete version. The advantage of this is that the user may test the program without resorting to illegal copying. The company that developed the software keeps the copyright of the contents and it cannot be pirated. This was thought to be a great way to prevent a lot of software piracy, because of the fact that it is easily available, it is low cost, and legal. Yet the full versions are still desired, and continue to be copied and pirated.
Software piracy continues because the software pirates make huge sums of money. Depending on where they are in the distribution chain, with the first copy being the most serious, the pirates will be charged according to the severity. With the computer market growing so fast, software companies are developing new and hard to crack copy protection techniques. This is to ensure that the jobs of programmers will not be unnecessarily threatened and that software prices will not have to be raised to combat falling commercial sales. Although the steps help to diffuse the problem, it would not be realistic to say this problem will completely go away. There will always be skilled programmers and “phreaks” whom will be able to hack codes and use encryption when distributing software.
When people take other people’s ideas and benefit illegally from them it is wrong. Copying software is an indirect way of stealing, because it causes software companies to lose money, or rather, the ability to make money. Many people do not take the problem seriously, and it is questionable whether many people care of this issue at all. The main reason the issue has been difficult to combat is not lack of laws or protection within a computer programmer’s code, but the flippant viewpoint about copying by society as a whole. If people are educated about the issue and the effects of software piracy, this could mark a change. Any other steps just touch the surface of a deep problem.