Copyright infringement of software

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Copyright infringement of software

The copyright infringement of software (often referred to as software piracy) refers to several practices which involve the unauthorized copying of computer software. Copyright infringement of this kind varies globally[1]. Most countries have copyright laws which apply to software, but the degree of enforcement varies.

It is a copyright violation to download, upload or otherwise distribute copyrighted material through the internet without authorization.

Existing and proposed laws


File:Pro piracy demonstration.jpg
Demonstration in Sweden in support of software piracy, 2006.
File:The Pirate Bay logo.svg
The Pirate Bay logo, a retaliation to the stereotypical image of software piracy

Most countries extend copyright protections to software. Even the oldest legacy computer systems used today will not have their copyright expire until 2030. In the United States, copyright term has been extended many times over[2] from the original term of 14 years with a single renewal allowance of 14 years, to the current term of the life of the author plus 70 years. If the work was produced under corporate authorship it may last 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is less.

Punishment of copyright infringement varies case-by-case across countries. Convictions may include jail time and/or severe fines for each instance of copyright infringement. In the United States, willful copyright infringement carries a maximum penalty of $150,000 per instance.[3].

Proposed laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act broaden the definition of "willful infringement", and introduce felony charges for unauthorized Template:Main. These bills are aimed towards defeating websites that carry or contain links to infringing content, but have raised concerns about domestic abuse and internet censorship.

Title I of the US DMCA, the WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act has provisions that prevent persons from "circumvent[ing] a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work". Thus if a software manufacturer has some kind of software, dongle or password access device installed in the software any attempt to bypass such a copy protection scheme may be actionable — though the US Copyright Office is currently reviewing anticircumvention rulemaking under DMCA — anticircumvention exemptions that have been in place under the DMCA include those in software designed to filter websites that are generally seen to be inefficient (child safety and public library website filtering software) and the circumvention of copy protection mechanisms that have malfunctioned, have caused the software to become inoperable or which are no longer supported by their manufacturers.


Copyright does not protect the technical form nor R&D[4] of an original work. Copyright contains a Substantial similarity requirement to determine whether the work falls under the Fair use clause.

Evaluation of alleged software copyright infringement in a court of law may be non-trivial; if an original work is alleged to have been modified, then tests such as the Abstraction-Filtration-Comparison test (AFC Test)[5][6] are used to detect infringement. The time and costs required to apply this test naturally vary based on the size and complexity of the copyrighted material. Furthermore, there is no standard or universally accepted test; some courts have rejected the AFC Test it in favor of narrower testing criteria.

Impact of copyright infringement

Claims of economic harm

The BSA and IDC claim that losses from software piracy in 2009 have exceeded $51 billion.[7]

In addition, it has been claimed that reducing piracy rates would provide significant economical benefits: Template:Quote

According to a BSA/IDC studies, the highest piracy rate comes from Armenia, with piracy rate of 93%. China and India are at No. 17 and No. 41 respectively , with 82% and 69% of recorded Software Piracy rates.[8] The lowest piracy rate, according to survey, is observed in USA, at 20%.

However, the methodology of these studies have been heavily criticized. Estimated losses have been found to be heavily exaggerated[9] or outright fabricated[10]. In addition to misrepresenting data, the BSA and other like associations have been found to rely on the perpetuation of myths, tropes, and moral pedagogy[11] in lieu of data.

Claims of economic advantage

Jeff Raikes, a Microsoft executive, stated that "If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." He also added [12] that "We understand that in the long run the fundamental asset is the installed base of people who are using our products. What you hope to do over time is convert them to licensing the software." In a different case, Microsoft has admitted that piracy of its Windows operating system has helped give it huge market share in China that will boost its revenues when these users "go legit." Bill Gates said, "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not."[13] He has also said in reference to China: Template:Quote In this way, copyright infringement acts as a market penetration tool[14] to set standards and create dependency on the software.

Software copyright holders have found that in many conditions they see higher profits because of piracy[15][16]. Authors that have distributed their work online with open licensing universally agreed that they achieved much greater success, profit, and impact from their work because of piracy[17].

Developing countries

Most commercially exploited proprietary software is developed in the United States and EuropeTemplate:Citation needed. Critics in developing countries see this as an indirect technology transfer tax on their country, preventing technological advancement. This is the leading reason developing countries refuse to accept or respect copyright laws. This idea is often applied to patent laws as well. Traian Băsescu, the president of Romania, stated that "piracy helped the young generation discover computers. It set off the development of the IT industry in Romania."[18]

The debate about software piracy acceptance in developing countries still continues. In 2011, the Business Software Alliance announces that 83 percent of software deployed on PCs in Africa has been pirated (excluding South Africa).[19]

Copyright and free software

Certain free software licenses (most notably GPL) substantially rely on existing copyright law. It is not possible to enforce GPL other than within the framework of existing copyright law.[20][21] As GPL being strongly associated with word Copyleft, there is certain confusion about GPL and copyright, but despite somewhat confusing wording, copyleft is indeed one (unprivative) of copyright licensing schemas.

Anti-copyright infringement organizations

See also



  7. BSA Piracy Study: Quantifying Piracy Data Easier Than We Thought
  8. Fifth Annual BSA and IDC Global Software Piracy Study
  13. Template:Cite journal
  18. Nathan Davis. Thanks for letting us pirate. 5 February 2007.
  19. Template:Cite web
  20. Should copyright be abolished
  21. The Sustainable GPL