Computer Software Theft

This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Computer programs are the written materials that permit a computer to do useful work. Today, we tell what is being done about people who illegally copy, sell or steal thousands of millions of dollars of computer programs.

A court in Richmond, Virginia recently found a man guilty of illegally copying and selling computer software. The software was the product of the Microsoft Corporation. He was sentenced to almost six years in prison. He also will have to pay almost two million dollars to Microsoft Corporation for stealing its computer software.

Recently a citizen of China was about to fly home from the United States. As he waited to enter the airplane, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested him for stealing computer software. He has confessed to the crime in court and told the judge he was guilty of software theft. He could face as many as four years in prison and be forced to pay a fine of two hundred fifty thousand dollars.

These are only two examples of several hundred trials or charges against people who have been caught copying and stealing computer software. Police agencies around the world are working to stop computer software theft.

The modern computer has changed the way the world communicates, the way business is done and the way many people work and live. A computer needs written material called software to be able to do anything. Entering the written material into the computer causes the machine to operate. Without software, a computer is nothing more than glass, wire and plastic.

Few people would think of stealing a costly computer from a store. They know that theft is a crime. However, many people think it is all right to buy a computer program from a person they know is making illegal copies. Or they will take a computer program they bought legally and make an illegal copy of it for a friend.

For some reason, many people do not consider the theft of computer software a crime. They are wrong. The crime of copying, selling or stealing computer software can send a person to jail or cost them a great deal of money, or both.

People steal every kind of software program -- from games that do not cost much to very costly complex business programs. Almost every company that produces software has been the victim of such theft.

The Business Software Alliance is a group that fights the crime of software theft. Each year, it publishes a report for computer companies that are members of the Alliance. The report attempts to show how much money computer companies have lost in the past year because of software theft.

In two thousand-three, the Software Alliance worked with the International Data Corporation to write the report. IDC studied computer software use in eighty-six countries. The report showed that computer users around the world spent more than fifty thousand million dollars on legally bought computer software. Yet computer software worth almost eighty thousand million dollars was placed or installed on computers during the same period of time.

The report says the legal sale of computer software should increase from fifty thousand million dollars to seventy thousand million dollars in the next five years. At the same time, the report said that more than forty thousand million dollars worth of computer software will be copied, sold illegally, or stolen.

The report says the industry loss is partly the result of people making illegal copies of computer programs and games. A major loss results from large and small businesses making and selling thousands of illegally copied software programs.

The computer itself aids in the problem of software theft. Almost anyone can make an illegal copy of a computer program in a few seconds. This copying is done in homes, schools, businesses and even governments.

The Business Software Alliance says theft from a software company decreases the amount of money the company has for research and development of new products. That means computer users have fewer programs that are useful for work or play.

Governments around the world have approved new and stronger laws against the theft of computer software. Laws in the United States call for severe punishment for people found guilty of computer software theft. Sentences can include many years in jail and the guilty person can be forced to pay large amounts of money.

One crime is called copyright infringement. A copyright is the legal protection a person receives from the government for a work or product that he or she has created. A copyright makes it illegal for anyone to copy or reproduce the work of another person or company.

Copyright infringement is a federal crime. A person found guilty could be sentenced to as many as five years in federal prison and be made to pay as much as two hundred fifty thousand dollars.

The Microsoft Corporation is one of the largest and best-known computer companies in the world. Microsoft was one of the first companies to begin developing and selling software products.

Bill Gates is the head of Microsoft Corporation. He started the company in nineteen seventy-five. One year later, Mr. Gates learned that people were already making illegal copies of the products of his small company.

Mr. Gates published a letter to computer users. In it, he accused many of stealing software. He said he could not understand why all computer users would pay for a computer but steal the software.

Microsoft was one of the companies that helped form the Business Software Alliance in an effort to fight software theft around the world.

Microsoft Corporation says people make illegal copies of software or buy illegal copies in an effort to save money. The company says they are wrong.

Microsoft says an illegal software program does not have the support of the company that makes the real product. Microsoft says many illegal copies are of very poor quality. Some are so poor they can damage the computer that they are used on.

The illegal copies sometimes cannot do all the useful work that the legal product can do. Often illegal copies do not have the written instructions the company includes with its products. This makes it difficult to get the program to work correctly.

Microsoft also says that a software company usually releases major changes to a program from time to time to make it better and more useful. Computer users with illegal copies do not receive such improvements.

Microsoft Corporation and the Software Alliance work with law enforcement agencies around the world. They work to find people who steal software products and then the law enforcement agencies bring charges against them. The companies also work with local law enforcement agencies and court systems in an effort to help them learn how to deal with this crime.

The United States government is very active in fighting software theft. "Operation Buccaneer" is an international program that investigates and fights copyright theft. "Operation Buccaneer" continually investigates the theft of computer software, movies, games and music.

Its major aim is to find those criminals that use the Internet to send, receive or sell stolen material. One investigation involved criminals in the United States, Russia, Israel, Brazil and several countries in Western Europe. One of the members of this group was arrested in the United States.

He will soon stand trial for violating federal criminal copyright laws and for having stolen property in his possession. If found guilty, he could face as many as ten years in jail and be made to pay two hundred fifty thousand dollars.

The Business Software Alliance says methods of investigating software thefts are improving. Many countries around the world now recognize the harm done by software theft and are joining the effort to stop it. The Alliance says more and more software thieves are caught and severely punished every year.

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - Computer Software Theft
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