Piracy Rant


As many of my friends and collegues are aware I am a very strong advocate of paying for legal copies of software. This seems to cause many people to chuckle and nod their heads in understanding while they go off to the market to pick up Microsoft Office (a £300 product) for £2 or £3 – that, or, they install Office from the original installation CD on yet another computer. I thought I might share with you some of my thoughts on this matter.

First, a bit about me: I have a formal degree in Computer Science obtained while I was living in Canada. For the first few years of my obtaining my degree I spent a lot of time both designing and writing computer software. An average amount of time for me to spend on designing and writing a medium-sized piece of software would be about six months and most likely I would have support from a number of other team members. Obviously, in order to be able to eat while we did this we were paid for our efforts. I would also be the first to admit that we were paid WELL, however, if the software we wrote was simply taken and sold on the street for next to nothing I would be EXTREMELY upset to see my efforts being valued for so little.

When you buy a piece of computer software you are buying a product. This product (unless it is explicitly documented) is meant to be installed on one computer only - that is what you are paying for. Making a copy of the computer program stored on the CD (or diskettes) is the same as copying a CD of music or a video cassette (both are illegal in most countries). Installing the program on more than one computer is the same as making these illegal copies since the program was only ever intended for one computer.

The conditions I have specified are generally the case for most software now commercially available. The specific details for each product are given in the “License Agreement” that typically ships with the product which spells out (in exhaustive detail) exactly what you are buying and what you can do with it. If you are unsure you can always contact the manufacturer and ask.

A few simple cases:

  • Can I install this software I bought legally for my desktop on my laptop as well? - Generally, no, though there are some exceptions for software written specifically for use on both (such as SOME file transfer programs).
  • Can I install this software I bought legally for my computer on my friend's machine for no cost to them? - No.
  • Can I make a copy of this software I bought legally in case the original disks get damaged? - Generally, yes, since this is classified as a “back-up” as long as you don't go and give your “back-up” to someone else for them to install on their computer as well.
  • Can I give/sell this full version of a commercial software package I bought legally to someone else? - Generally, yes, as long as you remove it from your computer and give them all the documentation, original installation CDs, and the license certificate.
  • Can I give/sell this upgrade version of a commercial software package I bought legally to someone else? - Generally, yes, as long as you remove the software from your computer (and all the old versions you may have upgraded) and give them all documentation, original CDs, license agreements for both the upgrade version and the original FULL version of the software.
  • Can I give/sell this old version of a commercial software package I bought legally that I have since upgraded (and use the new version)? - Generally, no, since the upgrade is considered to be part of the original software so both must be sold/given away together.


When people buy pirated (illegally copied) versions of software, they commonly say to me “The company [that wrote the software] does not care about one illegal copy” or (more commonly where I am now working in Africa) “It is difficult and too expensive to get legal copies of software” or “I bought it legally with my money from this guy in the market…”. Let's address each of these issues in turn:

“The company does not care about one illegal copy” - While this may be true in an individual case as you well know one plus another, plus another adds up to a whole lot more than one or two illegal copies.

“It is difficult and too expensive to get legal copies of software” - This is particularly true here in The Gambia (Africa) where it seems that it is next to impossible to get LEGAL versions of software - I have heard companies insist that the software they provide is “covered by a site license” (which is patently not true, according to Microsoft South Africa) or it is “perfectly legal” and yet they are unable to provide proof. I have found that it IS possible to obtain LEGAL versions of software for use here - You just have to INSIST on it. This normally means requiring ORIGINAL installation CDs and a license certificate (a piece of paper or a sticker with, in the case of Microsoft, a hologram and serial number on it). As to the expense, there are things you can do to address this. For example, when purchasing new computers there are special deals made by software manufacturers with distributors to supply their software at reduced cost if it is “pre-installed” (though certificates, original software and serial numbers should still be provided). This is a SIGNIFICANTLY reduced cost (less than �100 for Microsoft Office, for example).

“I bought it 'legally' with my money from this guy in the market…“ - Most of the time it is very easy to tell if the software is illegal. How can you tell if a particular copy of software is illegal? Well, it is easy if it has a hand-written label or a photocopy of a label and looks obviously unprofessional. There are copies of software that look completely legitimate so manufacturers often provide information on how you can tell if the copy is legitimate or not (for example, see the Microsoft web site below for details). It is up to YOU to look at the software to see if it is a legal copy or not - If the price is too good to be true, it probably is!


“Ok,” so you say, “you have convinced me I would like to use legal software, how can I do it?” Well, there are a number of different approaches:

  • You can buy commercial software from legal distributors - As I mentioned above, there are ways of getting software like this for less than you might be expecting, taking advantages of things such as “Upgrade Pricing” if you have an older version of the product you want to buy or use a competitors product (read the specific upgrade requirements). Some of this software you don't even need to go to a store to buy: You can pay by credit card (being careful about the security of your credit card number) and download it, fully functional, from the company's web site!
  • You can use “freeware” or “shareware” software - On the Internet there are many places where you can get full, legal copies of “freeware” software. This is software that the author (a company or an individual) has made available free of charge for whatever reason. You can also get less-cost “shareware” software which is software that is given away for free on the hope that if you like it you will “register it” (many times registration gives you access to technical support and even more program features).
  • You can use FREE software - There is also the obvious free operating system: Linux which is very stable and getting easier to use as the years go on and you can download it from many different places on the Internet for free or get a version on CD for VERY little money. Lesser known is the fact that there is also a free Office software suite: OpenOffice (available for the Microsoft Windows operating system) which is very professional and easy to use. Many people insist on using “Microsoft Office” and refuse to look at the alternatives but OpenOffice is a worthy replacement offering much of the same functionality with NO cost.
  • You can use cheaper commercial software that provides the functionality you require - There is a replacement office software package called “Star Office” which is also available which, although not free, is certainly VERY inexpensive and, again, provides the same functionality as any other more expensive commerical office software programs.
  • You can use older (sometimes free) versions of software from legal distributors - There are some software manufacturers that provide older versions of their software for free or reduced cost through appropriately designated distributors also on the Internet (though you should be VERY sure that the manufacturer has authorized this type of sale).

One thing to remember is that, generally, you get what you pay for (notable exceptions are Linux and OpenOffice). Paying the extra money for a legal, commercial piece of software from a vendor tends to get you a higher-quality product as well as a certain amount of technical support lacking in lower cost (or free) software.

Note: On the subject of software available on the Internet, many times software manufacturers will make a “trial” version available for free on their web site. Often this version will have certain features disabled but it will give you a good idea of what the software does before you spend any money on it!

Bottom Line

Let's face it, the bottom line is:

  • Buying illegal copies of software is wrong. This is stealing.
  • Installing the same copy of software on multiple computers is wrong. This is also stealing.

You might say, “Steve should come off his high-horse and live in the real world”, but I would suggest to you that I practice what I preach: ALL of my software installed on my personal computers is legal (I have the original licenses and software to prove it) and I also insist that all the software I install is also legal. Yes, it is sometimes difficult (and expensive), but it is also the right thing to do.

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