BSA Taps Crawler to Fight Piracy

MediaSentry system combs Internet for software copyright infringements.

Using a new web crawling system deployed in February, the Business Software Alliance has stepped up its enforcement against Internet-based software piracy at universities, homes and workplaces.

The MediaSentry system, the alliances latest and most sophisticated mechanism for detecting online copyright infringements, searches peer-to-peer systems, FTP sites and Web sites for unlicensed copies of software programs identified by member companies.

The alliance, which boasts Microsoft Corp. and IBM as two of its largest members, notifies ISPs, universities or other intermediaries of infringements and requests that any illegal software be removed.

The effort has resulted in at least one company firing an employee for downloading software for illegal distribution, according to the BSA, which would not name the company.

Previously, the BSA surfed the Internet manually, looking for software piracy, but since deployment of MediaSentry (developed by MediaForce Inc.), the number of notices sent to ISPs has grown from 3,300 in all of last year to 8,500 from February through April this year, said Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement at the BSA, in Washington.

Despite the success in slowing piracy, increasingly sophisticated Web crawling systems are raising red flags for privacy advocates.

"The [intellectual property] community is posing a lot of new privacy concerns for us in their efforts to identify users and content," said Sarah Andrews, research director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington. "Even if they are not identifying an individual, a lot of times when they go to an ISP, the ISP will routinely give over information without any showing of wrongdoing. The ISP is served with a legal document, and it is intimidated."

More than half of the Internet users in the United States who have downloaded software either never pay for it or seldom pay for it, according to a survey released last week by the BSA. The alliance found a trend toward "situational ethics" in users attitudes about downloading pirated software. When asked if they would consider downloading software or buying it from an auction site to save money even if they knew it was illegal, 49 percent of 1,026 respondents said it would depend on the circumstances.

Although BSA members are increasingly deploying authentication technologies to combat piracy and the alliance lobbies for tougher copyright laws and enforcement, the focus is on education. "Attitudes and behaviors are still taking shape on the Internet," Kruger said. "If you can affect some institutional changes, thats going to affect our lives later on."

The BSA still spends much of its resources fighting illegal software copying taking place offline, particularly within corporations. However, workplace software copying pales in comparison with the potential threat of illegal software distribution over the Internet, Kruger said.