Slovakia takes on software pirates

MYTHS of untraceable software piracy are slowly disappearing as international governments join leading corporations in the global fight against the illegal use and distribution of software products.

MYTHS of untraceable software piracy are slowly disappearing as international governments join leading corporations in the global fight against the illegal use and distribution of software products.

Two years ago, Slovak police launched an investigation into 13 cases of illegal distribution of music. Between 2000 and 2004, authorities prosecuted at least eight businesses for breaching copyright laws. In at least two cases, violators received a suspended prison sentence.

Software companies, music publishers and movie producers estimate that they are losing billions of dollars each year on lost revenues through pirating. According to industry studies, these losses are deepening with widespread Internet use. File-sharing, also known as peer-to-peer networking, has made it possible for people to exchange digital media over the Internet, including MP3 music files, films and computer software.

A case before the US Supreme Court pits file-trading software companies Grokster and StreamCast Networks against the Hollywood movie industry and major record labels. Software experts and professionals believe that once the US Supreme Court rules, its decision will set international ground rules for electronic file sharing.

"The case is the culmination of five years of legal battles against the peer-to-peer networks that entertainment companies believe are undermining the viability of copyrights," wrote John Borland for CNET

Court cases dealing with piracy are lengthy and expensive. American billionaire Marc Cuban agreed to help Grokster and StreamCast Networks after the defendants approached him for financial support. In an online blog, Cuban wrote: "If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag that it will be the domain of the big corporations only."

There are two types of software offenders: End users and distributors. End users violate copyright laws when they obtain and use software or electronic files without obtaining a proper licence. Distributors cross legal bounds when they distribute or sell unlicensed software, for which they can face a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Fines issued for using and distributing software illegally totalled €4 million in 2004 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This number represents almost a 10 percent increase compared to 2003. Two information technology analyst firms, Business Software Alliance (BSA) and IDC, say results show that piracy is gaining ground.

In Slovakia, it is estimated that 50 percent of the software in use is pirated, putting the country in seventh place among other EU-member countries. The biggest violators of copyright law are Greece, where 63 percent of the software in use is pirated; Latvia and Poland with 58 percent; Lithuania with 57 percent; Cyprus with 55 percent; and Estonia with 54 percent. Slovakia just squeaked behind Slovenia, where 52 percent of the software in use is pirated.

BSA has recently launched a new marketing campaign in Slovakia designed to inform the public about software piracy and encourage prevention. Commercials are being aired on popular television and radio stations throughout the country.

BSA is an advocate for the software industry in the government and international arena. Its registered members include well-known names, such as Adobe, Agfa-Monotype, Apple, Borland, Cisco Systems, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase.

The BSA spokesperson in Slovakia, Roman Karabelli, says that if Western Europe reduces piracy by 10 percent by 2006, software companies would be able to employ 250,000 more people and states would take in $18 billion (€14 billion) in extra tax revenues.

The BSA office in Slovakia currently monitors 92 firms, all of which are under suspicion of using software illegally.

In addition to these cases, BSA is monitoring 73 instances of illegal software installation by computer supply companies.

The association is helping prosecute 26 firms charged with illegally using and distributing software. According to the BSA, the situation in Slovakia is no longer a simple case of end-user error; it is also a case of suppliers charging for illegally installed software, thereby cheating customers who are willing to pay for the end-user licence.

Microsoft, the leading software corporation in the world, is trying to circumvent unscrupulous suppliers by allowing end-users to check the validity of their Windows operating system licences when they purchase computers pre-installed with Microsoft software.

If the software is not, in fact, legal, Microsoft promises to legalize the software free of charge.

The software giant believes that many software users are unaware that they are using programmes illegally. Microsoft also offers extra services for software licence holders, including free software and discounts.

One self-employed software engineer working in Bratislava believes that the level of software pirating is influenced by economics. He told The Slovak Spectator that small Slovak firms "find it difficult to pay for all of the licences, but they would much rather pay for it."

An inability to pay is not necessarily behind music and film pirating. Violators are primarily young people who, according to the software engineer, "would much rather spend their pocket money on other paid entertainment than on CDs and DVDs, in part because they are overpriced".

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