EXPLORATIONS -January 9, 2002: Software Theft
By Paul Thompson
Pirated computer software
This is Sarah Long.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS.
Computer programs are the written materials that permit a computer to do useful
work. Today, we tell what is being done about the stealing of thousands of millions
of dollars of computer programs.
An Indonesian court recently found five computer dealers guilty of using illegally copied Microsoft computer
programs. The programs were the kind usually sold with a new computer. These programs are called the
operating system of the computer. The five computer dealers made the copies without paying for them. The
courts ordered the five dealers to pay nine-million dollars to the Microsoft company.
In December, American Attorney General John Ashcroft announced police actions against one-hundred groups or
people around the world. They are accused of illegal use or theft of computer programs. Three separate police
investigations led to these legal actions.
One of the criminal groups was charged with stealing and making illegal copies of more than twelve-thousand
separate computer programs, movies and games.
These are examples of recent actions to try to stop the stealing of computer programs.
The modern computer has changed the way the world communicates, the way business is done, and the way
many people work and live. Computers now control airplanes, railroads, the financial system and automobile
However, a computer needs written material produced by people to be able to do anything. The written material
permits the machine to do useful work. This material is called software. Without software, a computer is nothing
more than useless glass, wire and plastic.
Few people would think of stealing a costly computer from a store. They know that theft is a crime. It can be
punished with a prison sentence. Theft is banned around the world.
However, many people think it is all right to buy a computer program from a person they know is making illegal
copies. Or they will take a computer program they bought legally and make a copy of it illegally for a friend. For
some reason, many people do not consider it a crime to not pay for computer software.
However it is. And, the crime of stealing computer software can send a person to jail or cost them a great deal of
money, or both.
People steal every kind of software program from games that do not cost much to very costly complex programs
for business. Almost every company that produces software has been the victim of such theft.
The Business Software Alliance is a group that fights the crime of software theft. Each year it publishes a report
for computer companies that are members of the Alliance. The report attempts to show how much money
computer companies have lost in the past year because of software theft.
The Alliance’s report for the year two-thousand showed the software industry lost almost twelve-thousandmillion
dollars because of worldwide theft.
The report says the industry loss is partly the result of people making illegal copies of computer programs and
games. The loss also results from large and small businesses making and selling thousands of illegally copied
The report also said the United States lost almost one-thousand million dollars in tax money in one year that
would have been paid if people bought the programs legally.
The computer itself aids in the problem of software theft. Almost anyone can make an illegal copy of a computer
program in a few seconds. This copying is done in homes, schools, businesses and even governments.
The Business Software Alliance says theft from a software company decreases the amount of money the
company has for research and development of new products. That means computer users have fewer programs
that are useful for work or play.
The Business Software Alliance says all software theft is illegal. That means just making a copy of a program for
a friend is illegal.
Laws in the United States call for severe punishment for people found guilty of computer software theft. A
person found guilty in a criminal trial can be forced to pay as much as two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars and
spend as many as five years in jail.
A lesser crime is called copyright infringement. A copyright is the legal protection a person receives from the
government for a work or product that he or she has created. A copyright makes it illegal for anyone to copy or
reproduce the work of another person or company.
A person found guilty of copyright infringement could be made to pay as much as one-hundred-fifty-thousand
dollars for each act of copyright infringement.
The Microsoft Corporation is one of the largest and best-known computer companies in the world. Microsoft was
one of the first companies to begin developing and selling software products that permit useful work to be done
Bill Gates is the head of Microsoft Corporation. He started the company in Nineteen-Seventy-Five. One year
later, Mister Gates learned that people were already making illegal copies of the products of his small company.
Mister Gates published a letter to computer users. In it, he accused many computer users of stealing software. He
said he could not understand why all computer users would pay for a computer but steal the software.
Microsoft was one of the companies that helped form the Business Software Alliance in an effort to fight
software theft around the world.
Today, workers for the Microsoft Corporation and the Business Software Alliance find people who steal software
products and then place legal charges against them. They work with local law enforcement agencies and the court
system in a country to punish those found guilty of stealing software.
A good example of their investigative work took place in February, Nineteen Ninety -Nine. Microsoft and local
law enforcement officials in Paramount, California, seized a huge amount of illegally copied software. Microsoft
says the stolen software was worth about sixty-million dollars.
Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance say the problem is worldwide. They continue to fight software
theft in more than sixty-five countries.
Microsoft Corporation says people make illegal copies of software or buy illegal copies because they think they
are saving money. The company says they are wrong.
Microsoft says an illegal software program does not have the support of the company that makes the real product.
Microsoft says many illegal copies are of very poor quality. Some are so poor they can damage the computer that
they are used on.
The illegal copies sometimes can not do all the useful work that the legal product can do. Often illegal copies do
not come with the written instructions the company includes with its products. This makes it difficult to get the
program to work correctly. And Microsoft says a computer user can not call the company for help if they have a
problem with illegal software.
Microsoft also says that a software company usually releases major changes to a program from time to time to
make it better and more useful. Computer users with illegal copies do not receive such improvements.
Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance say all the problems created by using illegal software can cost an
individual or a company a great deal of time and money.
However, critics say part of the reason for the amount of software theft is that Microsoft and other large software
companies are making huge profits. They say people make illegal copies of programs because they cannot pay
the high cost the companies charge for them.
The Business Software Alliance and software companies say they are improving their methods of investigating.
They are bringing legal charges against those who steal software products. Many countries around the world now
recognize the harm done by software theft and are now joining the effort to stop it.
The Business Software Alliance says more and more software thieves are caught and severely punished every
This program was written by Paul Thompson. Our director was Caty Weaver. This is Sarah Long.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the
Voice of America.
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