RealTime IT News

Software Pirates Look Familiar

And now for something completely different from the Business Software Alliance. Traditionally, the BSA, a high profile lobbying and anti-piracy enforcement group for the software industry, touts major counterfeit software busts and statistics on the cost of piracy to commercial software vendors.

But this week, the Washington, D.C.-based BSA is launching a very different campaign. The "Faces of Internet Piracy" campaign features five videos of a diverse set of people convicted of software piracy, all of whom could be your neighbor.

Four of the five were convicted and sentenced to jail while the other, Diane Goins, was a civil case that was settled. Part of the settlement included Goins agreement to help with the BSA's anti-piracy educational program. The BSA said none of the others were compensated or legally bound to participate.

In August 2008, BSA announced a judgment in the amount of $250,000 against Diane Goins, a grandmother of 55 living in Richmond Hills, Ga.

Goins had been selling counterfeit copies of Corel software on eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) to supplement her retirement income. She claims she didn't realize the software she was selling was counterfeit. "Somebody from BSA ordered a piece of my software and had it tested," she says in the video. "I found out this stuff can be copied or pirated. People can mislead you."

The four other videos include an Austin, Texas college track star; a Lakeland, Florida entrepreneur; a Wichita Falls, Texas software programmer; and a New Milford, Connecticut college student. A BSA spokesman said additional video campaigns are in the works including one that will focus on software developers talking about the impact piracy has on their business.

Humanizing the issue

"The idea was to convey real human stories," Dale Curtis, vice president of communications at the BSA, told InternetNews.com. "You don't have to take BSA's word for it to see how people are duped and the real impacts it's had on their lives."

Another video features Thomas Rushing, a former college track star sentenced last December to three years in federal prison and three years of supervised release following jail time and a $10,000 fine.

Beginning in January 2004 during his sophomore year at the University of Texas, Rushing operated four for-profit Web sites that offered pirated copies of Adobe (NYSE: ADBE) and Macromedia software. Rushing and his partners sold what the BSA estimated was the retail equivalent of $2,500,000 in illegal software.

"I called it backup software," Rushing said in the video which starts with him saying, "I'm a software pirate."

"I feel ashamed and also feel confused," continued Rushing. "I've wasted four years of my life doing this illegal activity. I'm a convicted felon anywhere I go."

Analyst Roger Kay said the video campaign could prove effective if those in it are credible. "The numbers the BSA always issues aren't emotional, this speaks to another side of your brain," said Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. "It puts a face on piracy which people often think of as a victimless crime.

"With everything going digital, including movies, piracy is a very real issue," said Kay who does occasional consulting work for the BSA, though he was unaware of the Face of Piracy campaign until today.

"These stories are a wake-up call for distributors and users of illegal software," said Robert Holleyman, BSA's president and CEO, in a statement.

In addition to the videos on pirates and developers, Curtis said a future series will focus on informants who reported illegally copying and distribution to the BSA.

"Even though we offer up to a million dollar reward based on a sliding scale, half the time these informants don't even want it," said Curtis. "They say it's just the right thing to do."