The software industry is accelerating its efforts to stop consumers from obtaining copyrighted programs over the Internet — and is showing a renewed vigor in putting those who illegally share software online in jail.
Among the new steps is an "education" campaign, promoted by the Business Software Alliance, to warn consumers about downloading copyrighted software or purchasing illegally copied programs from Internet auction sites.
And the threat of legal action is explicit: The BSA said it has successfully sued several individuals who were pirating software on the Internet. The BSA and the Software & Information Industry Association, the industrys two largest trade groups, have been emboldened by last months conviction of a member of the "Pirates With Attitude" software piracy ring, the first such case brought under the No Electronic Theft Act. The 1997 law amended the copyright code to make it illegal to reproduce or distribute copyrighted material, even if a person acts without a financial interest.
"Theres clear value to communicating to people that if you pirate software on any kind of scale, you could end up in prison," said Bob Kruger, the BSAs vice president of antipiracy enforcement.
The get-tough attitude — which mirrors the entertainment industrys crackdown on unauthorized Internet trading of music and movies — is driven by the gigantic losses that the industry claims it suffers because of piracy. According to the BSA, software companies lost $11.8 billion worldwide in 2000 because of all forms of piracy.
Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Justice have become more interested in cracking down on software pirates. Even so, prosecution of Internet software pirates "has been a hell of a lot slower than wed like it to be," said Michael Flynn, manager of Internet antipiracy at the SIIA, whose members include AOL Time Warner, Oracle and Sun Microsystems.
The BSA, which represents Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, IBM, Microsoft, Symantec and other software vendors, recently put into place a four-person Internet police force that proactively searches the Internet and peer-to-peer networks for infringing files. Kruger said the BSAs Internet team scores hundreds of "takedowns" per month, in which Internet service providers are asked to remove infringing content or terminate the accounts of offending users.