Software Piracy

Written by David M. Stone, University Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL


Software piracy can be defined as "copying and using commercial software purchased by someone else". Software piracy is illegal. Each pirated piece of software takes away from company profits, reducing funds for further software development initiatives.

The roots of software piracy may lie in the early 1960s, when computer programs were freely distributed with mainframe hardware by hardware manufacturers (e.g. AT&T, Chase Manhattan Bank, General Electric and General Motors). In the late 1960s, manufacturers began selling their software separately from the required hardware.

Current illegal software in the US accounts for 25 - 50% of the software in use (see web sites below for further detail). Other countries often have levels of piracy well beyond that of the US. For example, Carol Bartz, the president and chairman of Autodesk, Inc. ( reports that one of their flagship products, AutoCAD, has 90% of the computer-aided design (CAD) market in China, yet sales are virtually negligible due to the widespread acceptance of software piracy (Fighting Computer Crime: A New Framework for Protecting Information, Donn B. Parker, 1998). A number of annotated web sites at the end of this document contain information regarding estimates of software piracy throughout the world. Bartz also states that many software companies are reluctant to pursue the educational market due to concerns that several copies of purchased software may lead to millions of copies of illegal software, produced "in the name of educating children" (Parker, 1998).


As stated earlier, software piracy is illegal. Ironically, many who pirate software are fully aware of the legalities, though they are able to rationalize continuing the practice. Some have difficulty understanding the distinction between freeware, shareware and commercial software. Others believe students won't be able to take advantage of the many technology-based educational opportunities without access to unaffordable software. Since software budgeting is often inadequate, and occasional upgrade of hardware makes older versions of software obsolete after several years, some think the only "solution" to the problem is to pirate newer versions of past purchased software. Finally, some people don't believe that software piracy is truly stealing because there is no loss of a tangible product involved in the act of piracy.

Both the US government and software companies are actively involved in efforts to eliminate piracy. The two major groups of software manufacturers involved in this effort are the Software Publishers Association ( and the Business Software Alliance ( These organizations regularly bring suit against companies involved in piracy, provide a hotline for reporting software piracy and provide web pages for online reporting of software piracy. The US government's FBI has a Computer Crime Squad (, who has raided numerous homes and offices, confiscated computers and shutdown numerous nationwide software piracy rings over the last several years.

Ways to Deal With / Minimize Software Piracy

As teachers, the easiest way to minimize piracy is to set a good example. Don't use pirated software or distribute commercial software to students or colleagues. It is important that policies go beyond individual classrooms, and that schools / districts develop software management, acquisition and implementation policies. These policies should be made clear to each teacher in the school's Acceptable Use Policy, with explicit statements regarding the unacceptability of software piracy. Technology Coordinators should determine which commonly used software packages are compatible with anticipated hardware and network upgrades, and make faculty aware of those changes prior to upgrade. Other ways to reduce the likelihood of software piracy are explicitly stated in Safeguarding Your Technology: Practical Guidelines for Electronic Education Information Security ( Among their recommendations are:

  1. Have a central location for software programs. Know which applications are being added, modified or deleted.
  2. Secure master copies of software and associate documentation, while providing faculty access to those programs when needed.
  3. Never lend or give commercial software to unlicensed users.
  4. Permit only authorized users to install software.
  5. Train and make staff aware of software use and security procedures which reduce likelihood of software piracy.

Finally, there are a number of network utilities which remove unauthorized files and programs on a preset basis. These utilities can effectively monitor and remove illegally possessed shareware and commercial software without any significant additional investment in network administrator time or effort.

Annotated Web Sites

General Introduction to Software Piracy

Combating Software Piracy (
Probably one of the best software piracy documents on the web. Introduces types of intellectual property infringement, cost and scope of piracy. Additionally, this document presents and analyzes trends in protection against piracy. Highly recommended.

Software Publishers Association Anti-Piracy Page (
An excellent introduction to the software piracy and its societal impact. One section deals specifically with software use and piracy in schools.

Software Piracy - What it is & What is does (
Concise introduction to types of piracy and its effects. Excellent, very quick overview.

Well written, concise presentation of issues surrounding software piracy.

Lecture 4: Software piracy (
Good introduction to the history of software piracy, presents a number of landmark software piracy legal cases.

Education-Specific Web Sites

Is it OK for Schools to Copy Software? (
Software Publishers Association document aimed specifically at educators. This document should clear up many of the occasional gray areas we encounter on a regular basis.

Software Piracy Statistics

Congressional Hearings to Target Software Piracy (
Outlines and presents statistics regarding the impact of software piracy on the US economy, as well as congressional responses.

1997 Global Piracy Report (
One of the most up to date and detailed accounts of global piracy. Very well written and organized 10 page downloadable pdf document.

Software Piracy Facts (
1996-97 statistics from a number of sources.

1996 BSA/SPA Piracy Study Results (
Breakdown by country of changes in software piracy over a three year period.

Overview: Global Software Piracy Report: Facts and Figures, 1994 - 1996 (
Software Publishers Association discussion of software piracy throughout the world.

Software Piracy In Other Countries

Each of the sites below consists of a newspaper or magazine article. The title states the specific content of the article.

Korea's Software Piracy Reached 70 Percent in 1996 (

The Problem of Software Piracy in Hong Kong and China (
M.S. thesis written by Kenneth Ho (London School of Economics and Political Science). This thesis presents a fascinating account of cultural thinking and practices, tying them into software piracy issues.

Software Piracy Still Rife in Pakistan (

Thailand - Warning On Software Piracy (


The Islamic ruling on software piracy (
Software piracy is FORBIDDEN regardless whether it is done with books or software but if the two conditions are met, need and lack of funds, THEN according to these scholars, it becomes permissible??? If you go backward by dropping sections of the URL, it appears that this site is legitimate.

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Developed 2/12/99. Last modified 5/9/99.