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There's Jack Sparrow, and then there's the guy in the office next door. While Captain Jack may seem to be more of the swashbuckling type than your typical coworker, most modern pirates are more likely to be found in a cubicle than in the Caribbean.

Traditional piracy, not nearly the problem it used to be 2 or 3 centuries ago, has nevertheless given way to various other, more bloodless forms of piracy not requiring a sword or a talking parrot. In a May 2008 study, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) reported the software global piracy rate at 38 percent, resulting in nearly US$48 billion in total packaged PC software losses in 2007.

Though the United States has the lowest piracy rate in the world (21 percent), the US is also the country hardest hit by software piracy, as American companies produce about 80 percent of the world's software. These huge numbers cost companies a lot. But that's not usually enough to make that coworker next door think twice.

Many software companies are worth millions or even billions, right? So what difference can it make? Well, as the quote goes, “People who claim they don't let little things bother them have never slept in a room with a single mosquito.” It only takes one, and copying even one program can lead to a fine and/or prison. Every infringement matters.

Don't Compromise, Don't Rationalize, Don't Make Excuses

To help me explain, I'll be getting some help from today's most well-known pirates, those of Disney's blockbuster series, Pirates of the Caribbean. First, a commentary between the Governor's daughter, Elizabeth Swann, and Captain Jack Sparrow:

Jack Sparrow: “We are very much alike, you and I, I and you...us.”

Elizabeth Swann: “Oh. Except for a sense of honor and decency and a moral center. And personal hygiene.”

Jack: [sniffs his armpit and looks back] “Trifles.”

Sorry Jack, they aren't trifles. Being honorable, decent and moral is a good thing. On the other hand, copyright infringement is just plain immoral and illegal. Music sharing is a popular evil in the media and recording industry, but software companies around the world, including Novell, are hard hit as well, losing billions of dollars because of people who illegally copy software.

Some offenders work in the dark, selling products on the black market hoping not to get caught. But many, if not most, software pirates don't think twice about what they are doing when infringing software copyrights. They often mistakenly believe that since they bought the software, it's theirs to do with what they will; but in reality, what they really bought was simply the license to use the software—usually for only one machine at a time.

I might as well believe that everything in my office here at Novell, including the computer, phone, desk and other items I use, including the parts, patents and programs involved in them are all now mine (wanna buy a stapler?). Of course, they aren't; by being hired I simply have been given the authority to use them.

The bottom line is, if a copyright exists, it is valid and binding regardless of whether anyone has taken the time to read it or not. Everyone is responsible for knowing the copyright rules attached to any software used or, especially, shared.

For example, by quoting Pirates, I am using intellectual material for this article that I did not create. Before posting the article, I made sure to check the law on such cases, including the “fair use” copyright policy (See: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html). Always be aware of the laws surrounding the software or other intellectual material you buy and use, even contacting the company itself if necessary.

In addition, companies should consider conducting software audits and including a statement on illegal sharing in company policy.

This Rum Tastes Bad

My favorite line from Pirates is from Jack after he and Elizabeth had been deserted on an island. Jack deals with the desertion by enjoying a cache of rum he's found. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds the alcohol abhorrent and burns it to make a smoke signal. Incredulous, Jack asks, “Why is the rum gone?!”

Just as sitting on a beach drinking rum with Keira Knightley may sound good to some, including Jack, copying software seems like an easy out to others. There might even be a few days in the sun. Yet piracy ultimately leads to negative consequences for everyone, from the company that distributes the software to the pirate and his customers.

For the pirate, the “rum” from infringing copyright can quickly turn into fines and jail time. Last March, ABCNews reported that two brothers were sentenced to prison after they were found selling pirated software at discounted prices online. One man was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay US$855,917 restitution, while his co-conspirator was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay US$151,488 restitution after both pleaded guilty to felony copyright infringement. Numerous others are charged and convicted every year.

In addition, the “good deal” the consumer gets with the pirated software is, in fact, a raw deal. The program might have glitches or work properly for only a short period of time, commonly known as time bomb versions. Warranties are nonexistent with pirated software and customer support and upgrades are forfeited. If the buyer is acting on behalf of a company or using company resources, the ensuing negative publicity portrayed to the media, shareholders and the general public from such employee activity would be extremely hard to handle. Like I said, it only takes one.

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