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Piracy and the Copyright


Recently, The Toronto Star published an article entitled
RCMP seizes BBS, piracy charges pending. The RCMP have
possessed all computer components belonging to the "90
North" bulletin board system in Montreal, Quebec. The board
is accused of allowing end-users the opportunity to
download (get) commercial and beta (not marketed, test)
After a four month investigation, the RCMP seized ten
micro-computers and seven modems. In addition, they found
software applications of major corporations valued at a sum
of approximately $25,00.00 (It is estimated that $200
million dollars are lost in revenues from software piracy,
according to the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft
{CANST}). For a fee of $49/year, the user was enabled to
download such software as WordPerfect, Microsoft
DOS,Windows, Lotus, Borland C++, dBase IV, and IBM LAN
which are all copyrighted by The Canadian Copyright Act.
The RCMP acted in response to concern from the users who
stated that they were not sure whether this software could
be distributed electronically.
Yves Roy, sergeant of RCMP stated that charges will be laid
in early December under paragraph 42 of The Copyright Act.
Conviction under this act carries a maximum punishment of a
fine of $1 million dollars, and/or 5 years imprisonment.
Because newspaper articles are very biased in one point-of-
view, it is difficult to look at both sides of this
situation. But let us discuss piracy in a more general
manner. Software piracy is the act in which someone takes a
copyrighted portion or whole of software, then
electronically copies and/or distributes it, with or
without modification of any sort. The software is
distributed to other people and/or organizations who
financially or otherwise charge/trade for the software's
use, and lacking authority or permission from the company
or person in which the software is copyrighted by.
According to the article, the "90 North" BBS satisfies the
software piracy definition and is therefore guilty of the
act. The BBS is further liable if the software companies
decide to file law suites against them. This is all fairly
evident, but we need to ask ourselves whether The Copyright
Act and its punishments are fair for modern society. To
answer this question, we need to look at piracy and how it
affects the world as a whole.
One may wonder how "90 North" makes its money. Just to stay
at a break even point, it needs 2,500 members! The answer
is that the BBS does not buy the software from retailers.
It buys the software from "pirate/cracking groups" such as
The Humble Guys (THG), International Network of Crackers
(INC), National Elite Underground Alliance (NEUA), Software
Exchange (SEX), Public Enemy (PE), etc. (most of the groups
are deal in the U.S. only). But how do these organizations
get their software?
From various places around the world such as Europe, the
pirate groups pay people who work in software companies to
send them commercial or beta software. Then the pirate
groups hire "crackers" (people who alter the program's
code) to un-copy-protect the software. Once this is done,
the pirate groups ask various U.S. BBS's to pay them for
this un-copy-protected software. Then, as you already know,
the BBS asks the end-user for an annual fee to have access
to the BBS. So, for an individual to risk his job for a
fast buck, many people are able to get software at much of
a discount.
Canadians, however, are far luckier than the United States.
Canadian pirate BBS's have a policy "you get as much as you
give" (at various ratios), meaning that the amount of
software you give to the board, is the amount of software
(in bytes) you may receive; and no fee is required. As
software gets bumped from one BBS to another in the states,
it eventually makes it way up into Canada, where BBS users
have the opportunity to get commercial software simply by
giving the board other software.
So what does all this activity tell us? This tells us the
people are willing to go to great lengths to get software
at a lower cost, or possibly in exchange for other software
and are succeeding in their efforts. Although more than 50%
of their income is from other companies which do not
pirate, this posses a problem for the software industries.
By fining a single bulletin board out of the thousands in
North America, there would be little accomplished. Not to
mention the fact the it is extremely difficult to prove and
convict people under the copyright act.
This is how the scene looked in 1980 - posing a huge
problem of business and the industry. The picture is much
different now. What did companies do to overcome the
problem (The Copyright Act didn't help too much!)?
Businesses made programs such that one would require a
manual, product support, other reference material, etc. So,
now when somebody "illegally copies" an application, they
need this extra material in order to use the software
efficiently and effectively. There are still some quirks,
as someone could photocopy a manual (though fewer people
would spend the extra time and money). But nevertheless,
the software companies have had success in slowing down the
software piracy process. In today's society, software is at
far the least income source for corporations such as
WordPerfect Corp. They make their money from individuals
purchasing extra manuals, reference material, supplementary
hardware, and calling product support. Software companies
are conscious of the pirate world and the changes they have
made. Some companies actually want you to take the
software. With the SHAREWARE concept, one evaluates the
software, and then pays if s/he feels it is a worthy
product. Companies are, of course, satisfied with the
current conditions. Most of the companies are still in
business, and still bringing up more technological
advancements. The companies, in one sense , have outsmarted
and beaten the pirates.
From BBS's, users have to opportunity to view software and
evaluate it before they pay the high cost of the extras.
Programmers also have the opportunity to view other works
and learn from the advancements, or find the errors in the
beta (or commercial) versions. Like all laws, The Canadian
Copyright Act needs to be modified with the changing
society. The act as of now is having little effect.
The Copyright Act needs to be changed so it reflects,
without distortion, the views of individuals and
corporations. A law is made to keep order, and if it
doesn't do that, then certainly it needs modification



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