RealTime IT News

SIIA Gunning For Online Software Pirates

eBay's latest marketing campaign proclaims it's "better when you win it" and encourages bidders to "shop victoriously," but when it comes to buying and selling software on the online auction site, it's the vendors that are doing all the losing.

A full 35 percent of all software installed on personal computers last year was pirated, according to IDC, meaning more than $40 billion in legitimate sales were lost to shady characters hawking their ill-gotten wares on the streets of Shenzhen or at flea markets in Des Moines or, more and more every day, at everyone's favorite place to "win" online: eBay.

Partly because of the efficiency and anonymity of the process and partly because of eBay's highly popular "Buy It Now" transaction option, software pirates are moving a staggering amount of stolen or counterfeit software through the site to buyers who are apparently oblivious, indifferent or both.

And the situation, according to investigators, is so out of control, nobody can offer up even a reasonable guesstimate as to how much illegal software is sold each day, month or year on the site.

Vendors aren't stupid and they're none too pleased by this development, but they and the authorities can't seem to do much to stem the flow of illegal software because they're constantly playing catch-up to professional crooks who set up multiple—sometimes hundreds, maybe even thousands—seller IDs.

Whether it's Microsoft Windows Vista or Symantec Norton Utilities or Adobe Photoshop, eBay bidders can pick and choose the software they want, make a bid and conclude the sale in minutes, leaving nothing but a trail of useless feedback comments and empty links behind.

Stepping to the fore in this decidedly uphill battle is the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), a trade association representing more than 800 software and digital content companies, of which maybe two dozen are active members.

The trade association in May 2005 launched what it calls its Auction Litigation Program to monitor eBay—and to a lesser extent smaller niche auction sites and rogue Web sites—to identify individuals and groups selling pirated software online.

"There's a lot of money to be made in illegal software," Keith Kupferschmid, the SIIA's senior vice president for intellectual property, said in an interview with InternetNews.com. "It's a combination of stolen software or OEM software that's somehow not sold with the hardware. Sometimes it's academic software. Sometimes it's counterfeit. Usually it's being sold by an individual who's just trying to make a buck."