Do You Know the Penalties for Pirated Software in The US?

The temptation is pervasive. The program or app that you want can be acquired at a fraction of its legitimate cost, or maybe even for free. But whether in the form of a computer program used in your business or a game app on your phone, the sale or use of pirated software is illegal (U.S.). In fact, it is an infringement of the copyright laws in the United States and can be enforced by Interpol globally.

There is a misconception among many people that pirating these apps and programs is not hurting anyone. They believe it is a victimless crime because it impacts no one but a large corporation. This is not true. Yes, the large corporation may own that copyright, but they use the money they generate from the sale of these products to pay developers and other employees. Pirating–as opposed to purchasing–suppresses employment or might even cause job losses, and negatively impacts the economy.

Recent Pirate Busting

Penalties for Pirated SoftwareThe U.S. government, with the help of Interpol (international police organization), recently seized three websites that pedaled phony versions of Android cell applications. Although being marketed as authorized applications, those apps were fake. As with many of these pirating companies, they hosted the apps on servers located outside of the United States in hopes of covering their trail. However, they were discovered and shut down by the authorities and are now awaiting trial.

If convicted, these site owners could face fines of up to $25,000 per incident and incarceration in a federal prison.

How You Can Get Caught

There are several ways that companies learn about their software being pirated. A Florida federal defense attorney indicates these methods include, but are not limited to:

  • Spiders

Many companies will send out spiders looking for information on their products. If these spiders bring back nonconforming information, they know they have discovered pirated product.

  • Pings

Many of the OS designers have incorporated code into their designs that will ping the company if any software that is not verifiable is found on the device.

  • Research

Many software and app developers have employees dedicated to surfing the Internet each day looking for companies or individuals offering their product or services that are not authorized to do so.

  • Reports

Many companies or law enforcement agencies find out about pirated software through whistleblowers. There is a number and a website that anyone can go to anonymously and report someone who is pirating software or is using pirated software.

  • Bait

Many developers, big and small, will place advertisements on classified sites looking for particular programs or apps. When they make contact, they determine if it is pirated goods and report it to the proper authorities.

Penalties for Pirated Software in the US

Of course, there are other means by which a company can discover if you are pirating their intellectual property. However, they do not wish to disclose this information at the time because it will take away their leading edge over those who wish to steal their product.

Pirating any type of product is a crime. Just because you purchased a program, app, movie, or other form of media, does not mean that you have the authority to reproduce that media in any form, not even to share with friends even without financial gain. Software has to be licensed; you are simply buying the rights to use someone else’s property for personal use or business purposes, whatever the license specifies.

Fighting the Temptation

Pirating penalties can be enormous, going into the multi-millions of dollars in fines, or even incarceration. Before assuming such an enormous risk, look around for cheaper alternatives that may have as much functionality as you actually need. For instance, there are photo-editing programs that provide many of the more basic functions of the elite and high-priced brands, although not the sophisticated features–which you may not use anyway. You may be able to afford an application that provides what you need, making it all the more senseless to steal, which you should never even consider regardless.

As with illegal narcotics, authorities may go after drug dealers more aggressively than drug users, but both the selling and the using of unlicensed software is a criminal offense, even if you purchased a used computer that just happens to have some juicy programs on it without the installation discs or a license transfer.

An Even Worse Consequence?

Being caught by law officials might be preferable to the snare of the criminals selling counterfeit goods. Do you really want to do business with a crook? Microsoft reported earlier this year that 63% of the computers on which it identified counterfeit versions of its software also contained malware that provided thieves information from the affected computer such as credit card numbers and banking information.