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Plundered booty

THE SLOVAK Business Alliance has repeatedly suggested that "software criminality" is a more appropriate term than "software piracy".
Slovak legislation related to issues of piracy does not, in fact, recognize the term "piracy". It only recognizes a violation of copyright.

THE SLOVAK Business Alliance has repeatedly suggested that "software criminality" is a more appropriate term than "software piracy".

Slovak legislation related to issues of piracy does not, in fact, recognize the term "piracy". It only recognizes a violation of copyright.

Many believe that "software pirate" is a euphemism, too soft a term to describe the act of violating copyright law.

Dictionary definitions leave no doubt that piracy signifies a violent act of robbery: a pirate is "one who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation." But software pirates consist of far more than those who make use of or reproduce the work of others without express authorization. They also encompass those who operate an unlicensed television or radio station.

The computer underworld - like any other criminal community - has already developed its own semantics, sometimes using glorified and mythical terms to describe what, in essence, remains a criminal act.

Two years ago, the Slovak police initiated a war against the avant-garde pirates of digital content and launched an investigation into 13 cases of illegal distribution of music.

The police want to focus efforts to restrain both sides of the software-offending coin - the end users and distributors.

End-user pirates are generally those who violate copyright laws when they obtain and use unlicensed software. While many end users are unaware that they are violating laws, that certainly does not free them from the "guilt" of joining the ranks of "pirates."

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.

Under the current law, these same distributors could have received jail time for up to five years.

Based on the latest study of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the software piracy rate has been dropping in Slovakia. Industry analysts hypothesize that currently, 48 percent of the software used in Slovakia is pirated.

To put it bluntly, almost half of the software installed on personal and business computers in Slovakia is being used illegally. That makes a large portion of Slovaks criminals.

After the police anti-piracy campaign and the subsequent shake-up, the bigger and middle-sized companies rushed to legalize the software they used.

When businesses legalize their software, it often has more to do with improved economic performance than with newfound legal or risk awareness.

According to the BSA, households and small firms are the biggest violators of copyright law. As mentioned earlier, many of these "pirates" are unaware that they are violating the law, although they are relying on unlicensed software.

Compared to other countries, Slovakia's ranking on the software piracy chart is not that bad. Poles, Slovenians and the Greeks tend to pirate more than Slovaks do.

However, look beyond the computer industry and you see a whole host of pirates. Cable operators in Slovakia warned that every seventh person watching television through their networks is a pirate. Last year, approximately 680,000 households were plugged into cable illegally. The Association of Cable Televisions estimates that piracy costs the operators Sk430 million (€10.99 million) annually in lost revenues. This also means that the state is losing money on VAT, and copyright holders are losing out on fees.

Sophisticated pirates often justify their acts, claiming they are trying to "fight the system" that allows certain groups to earn outrageously high profits. However, this justification is a slippery slope. Drivers could start illegally siphoning fuel from petrol stations in an attempt to "punish" greedy oil companies. Justifications can be found in almost all spheres of life.

Governments are already joining leading corporations in their fight against the illegal use and distribution of software products.

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.

Court cases dealing with piracy are lengthy and expensive. The Slovak legal system does not possess extensive experience in handling such cases.

As an advocate for the software industry in the government and international arena, the BSA has campaigned to educate the public about software piracy and encourage prevention.

The BSA claimed 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. Only time will tell if pirates of all stripes will eventually carry the moniker of criminal.

By Beata Balogová

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