software piracyIn 2010, piracy of computer software amounted to $59 billion, a new record, according to the Business Software Alliance. This was a 14 percent increase from 2009. Even though software piracy is common, not everyone knows they are even doing it, according to the Alliance. For example, if you buy one software license but put it on more than one computer, you are committing piracy.
Software piracy is defined as the unauthorized use, reproduction, sale, or distribution of copyrighted materials, which includes books, music, and software.

How can you help prevent it?

One thing is to be aware of where you shop for software, especially if you are doing it over the Internet or by mail order, according to officials at Softchoice, a leading IT provider. You need to make sure the seller is legally authorized to sell the software.
If the price on a product looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you are not sure about the legitimacy of an offer, get in touch with the maker of the software to make sure that what you see is what you get.

Many consumers are victims of counterfeit software when they respond to spam on their computer, according to the Alliance. Consumers can help themselves by learning to recognize spam, by checking out the dealer, by doing their homework, reviewing comments about the seller on websites, or looking for a Better Business Bureau logo.

At your business, develop software acquisition and usage standards, Softchoice officials say.

What are software companies doing to combat piracy?

Companies such as Microsoft have piracy security attachments such as Certificates of Authenticity labels to help people to identify real Microsoft software, according to company officials. These labels also have advanced technologies to make counterfeiting more difficult. For example, on pre-installed Microsoft Windows operating systems, the COA label is on the PC tower, and it should not be removed. Also on the PC label is a product key, which is necessary if the operating system needs to be installed again.

If you are buying the Windows operating system by itself, the Certificate of Authenticity is on the top of the operating system box. Also, on the Windows CD, there is a holographic image – part of the CD itself – that covers the CD. This also makes it easier to spot the genuine article. If you know to look for these features, it will be easier to avoid buying software that has been stolen.

Microsoft has a consumer protection program for people to contact to get more information about the authenticity of software. You can contact Microsoft through email at [email protected], by telephone at 1-800-RU-LEGIT, or online at Microsoft also is fighting piracy by trying to educate consumers, using legal enforcement, and pushing for new and stricter laws aimed to better enforce copyright laws.

Through industry groups, Microsoft and others also conduct audits of companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies to make sure the software they are using is authentic. Microsoft cooperates with law enforcement agencies to look into the unauthorized use, duplication, sale, or distribution of software.


Cory Howell is a small business owner who runs dozens of software applications a day. He ensures that the programs he runs are legally acquired, and encourages his contractors and clients to use end-user license agreements when developing new software applications.