Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Software Piracy, Copyrighting

Have you ever upgraded your operating system by borrowing the latest software from a friend? Or, when you spent only $50 to purchase sophisticated software, did you ignore your suspicion that this "steal" was too good to be true? The alarmingly casual attitude towards duplicating, downloading, and reselling software has made software piracy a critical issue for the computer industry. Research conducted by Business Software Alliance indicated that, globally, 11.5 billion dollars were lost in the year 2000 to pirated software. In 2003, the figure had risen to 29 billion dollars. The United Stateshas the lowest piracy rate in the world, but lost revenue to software companies is still considerable.

Software piracy is the unlawful reproduction of copyrighted software or a violation of the terms of the agreement stated in the software's license. A software license is a document that outlines the terms by which the user may use the software purchased. When you lend software to a friend, or download software onto multiple computers, you are failing to adhere to the license agreement and are, in fact, breaking the law.

Why is software copyrighted? Unlike an idea or written work, software has functionality. This unique quality distinguishes software from other forms of intellectual property and complicates its need for copyrighting.

Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation, argues that assigning copyrights to software hinders its development and that requiring licensing fees makes software cost-prohibitive for many people. Both of these negative consequences suggest to many people that standard copyrighting is not the best approach for software. Advocates of open-source code believe that a program's original source code should be in the public domain. Open-source code is code that anyone can download, enabling anyone to rewrite portions of the program, thereby participating in the software's evolution. While a number of programs, like the LINUX operating system, have open-source code, companies like Microsoft have chosen to protect their code.

Respecting the copyrights of software, if it is not open code, is important from a number of perspectives. Research shows that in one year 107,000 jobs were lost in the United States because of pirated software. "Softlifting," or duplicating software from a friend's copy, contributes as much to this piracy problem as counterfeiting and "hard disk loading," which is the unauthorized installation of software into a computer's hard drive before it is sold. Using pirated software also puts the user at risk by exposing him or her to potential software viruses. The person who freely "borrows" software from a friend is actually stealing, and this action has significant ramifications.

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