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August 3, 2012 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Ok, aside from any morality issues, what are the actual dangers of using pirated software?

Let's say if (hypothetically, of course) a very small business wanted to use pirated software, what would the actual dangers be for them? Under what circumstances could they be found out?

And for the purposes of the hypothetical, we can say this would happen in Canada and would apply to your general suite of office and graphics programs (nothing esoteric or proprietary).
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Many large companies make it easy to report the use of their pirated software, so if you piss off an employee (or particularly knowledgeable client) they could report you. What happens then? I haven't the faintest idea. Could be a lawsuit, could be a "cut that shit out" letter.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on August 3, 2012


It depends on the software and if any internet activation pieces were properly disabled.

Another danger is your customers finding out some way or other. Say, you had a client in looking over a project and they saw that your MS Office program or whatever had a big red banner on top. I'd think twice about doing business with a company that used pirated software.

There's also the chance that you become part of someone's botnet. Otherwise perfectly functional bootleg software could well have malware embedded that would make your computer the tool of some Belarussian hacker.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:14 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Financially it's a game of playing the odds, the financial outcome if the business is found out is variable, could be small - you actually have to license the products or large - you surrender derivative works.

Technically, it's hard to update, you can't be sure the software is clean, etc. Your target group of products are also the ones most often packaged with something nasty.

Also, the stuff you mention is commodity, shop around a bit and you can find it pretty reasonably priced.
posted by iamabot at 9:15 AM on August 3, 2012


I'm not sure about being "found out", but I like Burhanistan I'd worry that the installers for pirated software may also be sneaking other programs in.
posted by Monster_Zero at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2012


Yeah, what Burhanistan says. Not everyone who puts up cracked software is doing it out of shiny free-culture ideals. Some of that stuff is riddled with key loggers, rootkits, and the like.
posted by Andrhia at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2012


Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) - Nine software companies in Canada have teamed up as the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST). Autodesk Canada Inc. is the only CAD software member to date. CAAST is fighting illegal software use through education and, when software pirates are caught red-handed, through litigation. The group offers a guide to software management via its CAAST anti-piracy hotline (1-800-263-9700). But CAAST also invites people to call that number and leave anonymous tips on the recording. CAAST has followed up some of those tips by bringing in the Federal Court of Canada to conduct surprise raids.

One of CAAST's raids last summer resulted in a claim against Kellam Berg Engineering & Surveys Ltd. in Calgary. The 45-employee firm was accused of using apparently illegal copies of AutoCAD and other software distributed by Lotus, Microsoft and Symantec. As this is written, negotiations are underway for an out-of-court settlement.

Raids aren't the typical approach CAAST takes, reassures Clegg. "We'll usually send a letter and say 'you've been accused, why don't you go through this self-audit process and voluntarily clean this up yourself'. Then they might come back to us and make a donation to CAAST or whatever. We've only gone with an order from a judge less than five times in Canada."
TL;DR - if you are discovered, you will get a letter asking you to 'self-audit' (ie, actually pay for the product you're using). You could be sued if the infringement is deemed to be large enough by the legal and financial departments of the company whose copyright you are infringing.
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2012


Let's say if (hypothetically, of course) a very small business wanted to use pirated software, what would the actual dangers be for them?

There's no guarantee that the software you're getting is the software you think you're getting. Two things.

First, there's the ever-present problem of malware. Lots of spammers will post torrents of desirable software loaded with extras. Sometimes they replace the main application with one of their own. The software may still work just fine, only now it's doing other things too. Or the keygen or whatever they supply to make it work is a trojan of some sort.

Second, even if it's legit, it may not work properly. Rather than pirating the installation software, they may have found some way of transferring an installed copy of the software to other machines. This rarely works perfectly, especially in a Windows environment, and even if the software technically runs you may find that updating, changing, or uninstalling it is impossible.

This just emphasizes the fact that copyright isn't actually just about making sure that the author gets paid. It's--arguably mostly--about protecting the integrity of the relationship between author and reader/user. Knowing that a work is substantially what the author created is valuable, especially when there are real consequences for it not being that way.
posted by valkyryn at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


[This is a response from an anonymous user.]
Hello. My company has been caught out twice for software piracy. Once was for Autocad software, once was for Adobe software. The Autocad software piracy cost us a quarter million dollars, once all was tallied. The Adobe piracy's cost is still being tallied, but we've been forced to use hokey substitute software because apparently as part of the ongoing procedures we cannot have any Adobe software on our PCs. Every single PC had, as part of its deployment image, full pirated versions of Acrobat, Autocad 2010, and Microsoft Office 2007 installed. We never got caught for the Office software, and we legitimized our licensing for it immediately.

This debacle has cost two people in IT their jobs and also made my own work life a living hell because I need both Autocad and Acrobat software to do my job effectively. The crappy knockoff drafting and PDF creation software we are forced to use is terrible.
posted by cortex at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


That last one is a case in point. Most, maybe not all, but most business that use Adobe Creative Suite have it as a big part of their operation. Can you afford to take a chance on having a scenario like that happen to you? Not only the expense, but potentially winding up in the news (it can happen to small/medium businesses too), or on the industry grapevine. A thing like that could cost you your business.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:03 AM on August 3, 2012


It's not worth the costs. Contact the companies. Work out some licensing deals. Write it off.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2012


The A.E. Petsche Company in Dallas, Texas paid a fine of over $90,000 for using unlicensed copies of Adobe and Microsoft software - and that's at the LOW end of the scale. These things can easily run into the millions. Fines are typically $100K per incident for Microsoft. That is for every single install or client access license. So if you're using 10 unlicensed versions of Office, that's a million dollars total.

Additionally, the Business Software Alliance (http://www.bsa.org/) is the largest IT industry group formed to address international software piracy issues. BSA offers rewards of up to $1 million USD for qualified reports of software license violations, and over 2500 potential violations are reported per year to them.

In other words, any startup that does this is playing a very risky game and will probably go down hard the second they get caught.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:30 AM on August 3, 2012


The biggest danger in using pirated software is that the same clueless manager responsible for that decision is probably also in charge of other things.
posted by flabdablet at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Aside from the moral issues, using pirated software for your business is an incredibly dumb idea because as people have mentioned if your company gets caught doing it, there will be massive costs involved.

Not everyone who puts up cracked software is doing it out of shiny free-culture ideals. Some of that stuff is riddled with key loggers, rootkits, and the like.

Cite? People always bring up the malware bugaboo when talking about pirated software but it's actually extremely rare. If you do a search on Google for "Microsoft Office crack" and start randomly clicking on and downloading things you will probably end up with malware, but that has nothing to do with the actual cracking groups. I would say that running a keygen or installer from a Scene release from a reputable source (such as a large torrent site) is about as dangerous in terms of possible malware infection as running any kind of non-open source code on your machine from a third party.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:57 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree. If you are getting malware you fail at pirating. Proper scene releases from trusted sources are always clean.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:54 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My employer sells software, and within a year of even the most low profile release, our "free trial" becomes available on numerous shady sites with a malware payload attached to it.

I'm not contradicting anyone who says it's possible to pirate sensibly and avoid these things - I haven't tried! - but malware infections are certainly a risk involved in piracy.
posted by emilyw at 12:12 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


A company I worked for was sued for more than a million dollars for using pirated Adobe software. Why risk it? It's cheaper in the long run to just bite the bullet and pay to use software than to turn around and get sued later.
posted by camylanded at 3:27 PM on August 3, 2012


If this is not merely idle curiosity, then let me recommend OpenOffice - an office suite legitimately free and compatible with MS Office. We use it in the small company I work for. (I have no idea what the open source graphics options are, so can't speak to that.)
posted by hishtafel at 8:29 PM on August 3, 2012


To add to hishtafel's comment, some open source graphics programs are Inkscape and GIMP.
And I agree that OpenOffice is great.
posted by electriic at 10:37 PM on August 3, 2012


Open Source Alternative is a nice guide to which open source apps are decent replacements for major commercial ones.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:47 AM on August 4, 2012


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