back to article The BSA's fading twentieth-century piracy fight

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has been wringing its hands about software piracy since 1988, but victory may soon be at hand. No, not because pesky pirates are about to come clean, but rather because the BSA's twentieth-century battle is about to get steamrollered by twenty-first century software practices. The web and its …

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FAIL

Bad Example

"Sure, you could steal that Facebook app on your phone..."

I *could* but since it's available for free, why would I need to?

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Headmaster

I'll second that!

>>> There's little motivation to pirate open-source software.

<pedant>

How is this even possible, as by definition open-source software is free to copy or modify to your heart's content?

</pedant>

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Piracy of Open Source software

Some Open Source software is licenced subject to an agreement that you will return any improvements that you make to the community, for the benefit of everyone else.

Companies who have taken software such as the Linux kernel and used it to build devices without then sharing the changes they have made with the rest of the world are exceeding their authority under the licence and their statutory rights of Fair Dealing, and thus in breach of copyright.

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Bronze badge

When you pedant....

...check that your correction is itself accurate. Open-source != free, this depends entirely on the terms of the license under which you receive the source. It's perfectly possible for a developer to give you all the source code wrapped up in a big red bow, but accompany it with a license that forbids you to do anything whatsoever with it unless you pay them a hundred quid. So even though you have the code, if you compile it you're a pirate.

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Vic
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Don't confuse "open source" with "public domain"

> How is this even possible, as by definition open-source software is free to copy or modify to your

> heart's content?

No it isn't.

It is copyrighted code. And rights to copy or redistribute are dependent on the terms of the licence being followed.

This is usually quite easy, but several companies have managed to fail to do so. Microsoft is one such infringer.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

I'll second that!

> <pedant> How is this even possible, as by definition open-source software is free to copy or modify to your heart's content? </pedant>

Your confusing freedom to make changes with free as in "free beer". It's perfectly acceptable to sell free/libre software under the GPL, you just have to give the end user a copy of the source as well.

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Troll

All very good but....

Nice article, just one little issue...........

"I don't mean to diminish the wrong nature of stealing software. Theft is theft and should be punished"

I don't wan't to start another debate about copyright issues here, but have to point out the obvious yet again.

Piracy (copyright infringement) is not theft or stealing in any sense. You yourself pointed to the fact that an illegal copy does not equal a lost sale. And no-one is deprived of, or removed access to, the software.

I completely agree that "piracy" of software is naturally coming to an end in it's current form, and hopefully people will better understand how to add value worth paying for on top of something that can be distributed freely. Subscriptions for updates, patches etc are now commonplace, with "pirated" versions only able to do the basic tasks (see it as free advertising for your software, which will encourage people to upgrade/subscribe if it is a good product with reason to pay).

[troll: cuz I feel like one as I type this]

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Customised software not pirated?

Well, maybe not exactly piracy, but I recall a while back some disgruntled ex-developer from a larg(ish) investment house publishing some or all of one of the algorithms used by trading platform. I suppose there probably aren't that many people who'd want that stuff, but those that do, *really* want it. A fine line between industrial espionage and software piracy these days...

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That's not pirated

It's not even copyright, it's trade secrets.

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WTF?

Diminish?

"I don't mean to diminish the wrong nature of stealing software. Theft is theft and should be punished."

You don't mean to exaggerate the wrong nature of copyright infringement by calling it "stealing", then?

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Re:

"I don't mean to diminish the wrong nature of stealing software. Theft is theft and should be punished"

Copyright infringement != theft

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Happy

Hypothetically speaking

Let's say - hypothetically speaking, of course - that I happened to have a slightly dodgy copy of photoshop CS3 on my PC. Now, if I didn't have that hypothetical slightly dodgy copy, I wouldn't spunk £500 on a new version. I probably would make do with GIMP or something similar, ie something free. Therefore, the hypothetical £500 that hasn't been spent on my hypothetically dodgy copy of CS3 isn't missing from Adobe's coffers - it never existed and never would. Therefore, as the article states, the BSA's conclusions are indeed false.

Not that any of this matters since the hypothetical dodgy copy of CS3 entirely fails to exist.

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But...

If I have a pirated version of Photoshop on my machine, which I may never have purchased because I couldn't afford it, that may not be a lost sale to Adobe, but if I hadn't pirated that piece of software I would have used a less expensive commercial photo editing package or a piece of FOSS.

The upshot of this is that while Adobe may have not lost out, the lesser software manufacturer or the FOSS project will have lost out. (FOSS projects get donations to help them along, if they're small and not used because everyone is pirating commercial software, they're unlikely to attract funding.)

The basic upshot is piracy does do harm and it may well do harm in areas you never think of.

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Happy

CentOS != "piracy" (obviously, but non-open sourcers might not know)

"Ironically, the BSA has discovered one of the few ways to "pirate" open-source software, and is apparently an advocate. The BSA's website apparently runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone CentOS. Surely a license-respecting organization like the BSA would want to pay full freight for a RHEL license rather than undermine Red Hat by choosing CentOS? Evidently not."

I'm sure Matt doesn't mean it like I read it, but I dislike the comparison between "piracy" and legitimate derived work. The GPL specifically allows, yes even mandates, the possibility of what CentOS is. Red Hat themselves didn't invent many of the important parts of their distro, including the Linux kernel and many many GNU programs. If CentOS is "piracy" then RHEL is just as much.

IMHO what Red Hat sells isn't software as such, it's support. And that support might very well be worth all the dough it costs. But using CentOS (as I do myself extensively) is encouraged by the GPL.

(Very good article though, I'm starting to really like this Matt Asay!)

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WTF?

Open-source does NOT remove software piracy.

The author is kidding himself if he thinks that open-source and fluffy, cloudy computing makes software piracy a thing of the past.

Software piracy happens when anyone uses/copies/distributes software, in whole or in part, in contravention of the terms by which that software has been made available by it's author(s).

If a company decides to include open-source software in a product but decides that its far too annoying to follow the terms of the applicable license (eg making source available as per GPL), then that company is itself as guilty of software piracy as the seller of dodgy copies of Windows down at the car boot sale.

Piracy isn't just a "whole product" activity, although it does tend to be seen in that light.

And just because some product/service runs "in the cloud" doesn't mean it can't be pirated. It might make it a lot harder to pirate some elements, but there is still all that Javascript or Java or Flash or whatever that gets downloaded to your browser. If its accessible....it can be pirated.

What certainly is true is that open-source software largely removes the excuse to pirate software by consumers, but even they can fall into the piracy trap if they don't follow the terms under which the software is made available.

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FAIL

Except...

"I don't mean to diminish the wrong nature of stealing software. Theft is theft and should be punished. But I can't help but feel the BSA is chasing the chimera of yesterday's software problems."

Except for when it's software you're "stealing" then it's copyright infringement -- not theft.

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Coat

Software "... by Morgan Stanley for Morgan Stanley simply isn't going to be pirated."

Wanna bet?

I expect that there are a bunch of financial market and commodities trading firms in less-regulated countries who would LOVE to get their hands on Morgan Stanley's programmed-trading innards.

To use Morgan Stanley as an example: A slightly-off-center firm could "buy" a chunk of code from a disgruntled Morgan Stanley IT wonk, reverse-engineer the code to gain insight into Morgan Stanley's trading algorithms, and look for routines related to arbitrage transactions**. They could then design more efficient, lower-latency routines that take better advantage of price difference windows, thereby gaining a competitive advantage with regard to automated trades.

Never underestimate the power of (successful) industrial espionage.

**For a description of what arbitrage is and how it relates to financial markets, here's the Wikipedia article:

-- -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbitrage

My jacket's the one with the smuggled flash-drive in the pocket... * wink *

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Anonymous Coward

I dunno...

...From what I understand about financial software, it's usually a miracle if the guys who -wrote- it can understand it, much less someone who just decompiled it!

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Pirate

Good on some points, bad on others

As others have pointed out, the "copyright infringement == theft" is a fallacy is most frowned upon by those who know the difference. It ain't the same, precisely because of the points that have been stated here, like the fallacy of assuming "$1 pirated copy == $1 lost sale". In the software world, this ratio is even higher than in the music/movie industry, as you can't just get an "open-source Metallica" song but software is mostly replaceable.

Open sourcey stuff would gain the upper hand if piracy were to dissappear, so I wonder if that is the main reason for which Windows is still crackable. Specialized software like AutoCAD is pretty hard to crack, and some stuff even uses physical dongles as a hardware piracy prevention device. But Windows? Anyone can get a cracked copy of the latest Windows & Office without much tech skills, so the Linux vs. Windows arguments will usually fall out because "geeze, Windows is free d00d!" While piracy might fall on other types of software, me thinks that OS-related piracy will remain being high, if only to keep the MS monopoly in its place.

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Magic money

"unlicensed software, generally, saps at GDP and jobs growth."

So where is the money that was not spent on software go? Do they think people flush it? People spend it on something else, and even if they blow it at the pub it's more likely to boost the local GDP and jobs then giving it to a US software company.

So that idea is BS too.

It's hard to feel sorry for a bunch of whiners spouting lies and half truths.

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WTF?

BSA's `piracy` fight

More lies from Bull Shitters Anonymous!!

Their `projected losses from piracy` are so full of shit, it is coming out of their ears.

In fact, I think they along with the RIAA and the MPAA are so collectively full of shit, they need an enema administered with a high pressure fire hose.

Just do not get near them when the water gets turned on.

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Free software

@Ad Fundum, yep. That's how it's always been though --- I knew people "back in the day" that had loads of copied games. A lot of the time, they'd get them and not even play them; they wouldn't trade or give them; they just liked having a large collection of software. There's no way they would have bought it all, these were students (like grade school & junior high) that didn't even have a job yet. Anti-piracy groups have ALWAYS run under the illusion that every $1 of pirated software loses $1 in software sales, and it's ALWAYS been absolutely false.

Personally I don't think I've pirated any software in 10 years at least -- everything I would ever want for Linux (Slackware first, then Gentoo and Ubuntu) is free and most is also Free (Flash, Acrobat reader, Google Earth might not be "big F" Free) , so why would I pirate anything? Of course, BSA would never advocate using Free software, their goal is not really to reduce piracy, it's to increase money going to proprietary software vendors.

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Headmaster

Piracy != Theft

Sorry, but a minor point here. You STEAL a banana from the fruit shop. That is THEFT.

You COPY software, that is COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT or BREACH OF CONTRACT, depending on who owned it in the first place. It is NOT THEFT, however much the BSA keeps saying it is.

Oddly enough, we've been getting a lot of nastygrams from the BSA lately, threating us with an 'audit'. My response has been that if they turn up with a police warrant signed by a magistrate, I *might* consider telling them all of our software keys; which is what they have been demanding.

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Pirate

A world without piracy

Let's just imagine for awhile that the laws of the universe were different, and it was actually possible to eliminate software piracy altogether. The world wakes up one morning and nothing has changed *EXCEPT* every illegally-copied program and every unpaid shareware application has suddenly vanished from the disk it was kept on, and there is no way to get it back. If you want software, you have to pay the going rate for it.

Do you *REALLY* think that *every* *single* Fred in the Shed would go out and buy full-price copes of MS Office, Dreamweaver, Autocad, Adobe Photoshop and whatever?

My guess is that, of those who even persevered with using computers at all (because in case you've forgotten, the first industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution and the first few tentative steps down from the trees and onto the open grassy plains of Africa were all done without the benefit of computers; manual methods are still quite viable) only a few would do that. The vast majority would simply choose cheaper alternatives; most probably proprietary derivatives of BSD-licenced software, if not full-on Open Source.

That's a few million Freds in a few million sheds who are suddenly not getting free training in the use of expensive, proprietary software; but are getting free training in the use of inexpensive, and possibly free software. Meaning their future employers -- the very people who have been spending the most on proprietary software licences -- now have the choice: spend extra money training staff in the use of expensive software, or evaluate whether inexpensive alternatives have sufficient functionality for their needs.

Hardly a difficult decision to make in the pit of a recession, is it?

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Pirate

The rights that may be violated, and the monopolies that may be infringed

This is why we must defer to nature rather than desire when determining what is ethical, i.e. the natural rights we're born with rather than the commercial privileges we might lobby for and be granted.

There are still some in the free software movement who steadfastly believe in copyright as a fundamental right, that the GPL is thus a jolly good idea for those situations in which copyright gets in the way of sharing and building upon mankind's knowledge. Such people do not go further to question why a 'right' must be neutralised by license to facilitate collaborative software development.

There is such a thing as natural intellectual property and a natural right to exclude others from it. For natural rights this has to be self evident. If you can naturally, physically prevent me making copies of your work (without invading my privacy) you have a natural right to prevent me doing so - irrespective of facile arguments that 'You still have a copy'. I cannot walk up to you, snatch your CD out of your hands, copy it, give it back and say "Thanks mate - don't look so miffed, you haven't lost anything, you still have a copy!" without violating your natural right, your natural power to exclude me from your possessions.

Where things get confused is when the state grants additional powers, beyond natural ones, inevitably by annulling the equivalent natural power from everyone. Thus in 1710 Queen Anne annulled the right to copy in everyone in order to reserve this to create a monopoly for the exploitation of press (instituting the monopolies they had until then been able to nefariously achieve through their own brute force - and previous grants). The right to copy then becomes a privilege (you are then able to license anyone you like the permission to copy once again, as they were naturally able, and had a right to). This privilege must by definition arise in each original work (not being a copy), and so finds itself briefly in possession of the author before the press buys it from them for a pittance.

So when you give someone a CD, it is now in their possession and they can naturally do anything with it they like, unless you have loaned it, in which case they need to give it back in good condition. That means the recipient of a CD has a natural right to copy it - since nothing naturally prevents them. Whoever covets the power to prevent them would need to have a crystal ball to detect copying, and a global army to arrest and punish them for doing so. Copyright grants such power (though being only superhuman rather than supernatural, it is rather ineffective these days, even when made global and draconian by ACTA).

So, you can steal intellectual work (copies made via burglary), but you merely infringe a monopoly when you make copies of intellectual work you have purchased or been given - in this latter case you are actually reasserting your natural right and liberty, contrary to Queen Anne's edict.

As for 'doctrine of first sale' this is a crock. There may be a doctrine of 'fair use' (judicial discretion), but selling the copy you've purchased cannot infringe copyright since no copies are made. People call it a 'doctrine' to raise doubt and confuse the gullible.

Finally, it is shocking how many people think 'rights' are about the power people SHOULD have rather than the power they do have, by nature. No more power can be conjured out of thin air. All power granted is only obtained by taking it away from everyone in order that it may held by a few. It's a double-edged sword. Authors, like Glyn, end up discovering that copyright takes the power and right away from them to copy their own words - traditionally they are only briefly in possession of the privilege, and in the case of 'work-for-hire' they don't even hold that. The GPL rectifies this by licensing back to the public (and the licensor) the freedom to copy (on condition it is licensed for all derivatives too).

Abolishing copyright restores back to people their liberty and natural right to copy.

Ethically, copyright and patent should be abolished.

This is heresy to those indoctrinated to believe such power is properly theirs to exploit or dispose of.

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Alert

They keep claiming a 10 point reduction every year - it's ever going to happen!

The current “study” opening summary is in essence no different to the last 7 or 8 annual surveys they have published, it’s almost a word for word a cut and paste year after year. see http://www.pcprofile.com/How_is_the_BSA_Going_To_Achieve_a_10_point_reduction_in_Piracy_Rates.pdf and http://www.pcprofile.com/Its_Time_for_a_Change_to_the_Game_Plan.htm

The best they can come up with is education and enforcement, both of which are faiing to make any dent in the global numbers.

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The sooner the better

Having personally given the BSA full details of someone I knew to be selling pirated software on a seriously commercial basis (after receiving a dodgy burned CD off eBay) and receiving absolutely no reply from the BSA beyond the automated "thank you for your email, someone will read it later", I've no idea why any software manufacturer would even consider membership.

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Unhappy

It IS possible to pirate Open Source software

Not so long ago if you Googled Open Office the first link (a sponsored one) was to a third party company selling OpenOffice discs. The site looked pretty much the same as OO's.

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Vic
Silver badge

Is it?

> Not so long ago if you Googled Open Office the first link (a sponsored one) was to a third party

> company selling OpenOffice discs.

That is perfectly permissible - in fact, it's encouraged.

All you need do to remain legitimate is to comply with the licence - that means keeping attributions and notices intact, and providing source code either with the binaries, or on demand.

> The site looked pretty much the same as OO's.

As long as they weren't infringing Sun/Oracle's trademarks, that's perfectly legitimate.

Vic.

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