Korea Takes a Stand Against Illegal Software

[March 19, 2001 Korea] It’s been a rather difficult time for Korean start-ups recently.

There have been constant downfalls in stock market, skittish investors, colossal lay-offs, and now… software raids.

The Korean government, working together with the Software Property-right Council (SPC), has began to take action on software piracy.

Although it was widely known throughout the industry that a crackdown was coming, no one anticipated the vigilance and toughness of the crackdown.

A ten-man team from the illegal software control squad raided a venture company in Gangnam, Seoul Monday afternoon and using a special program checked to see whether the software installed on the hard-disks of office PCs was original. They also confirmed each PC had the verification documents.

Government offices, large corporations, universities and venture companies are on high alert as the crackdown on pirated software copies is being conducted on a massive scale. Some venture companies have sent their employees on vacation or temporarily suspended operations while other firms have started deleting illegal software. Meanwhile, the SPC’s phone lines are occupied all day long with calls asking for information on which companies will be investigated.

One venture company’s president said that his employees will telecommute starting this Thursday and that his small company will have to close down if the [software] control is conducted during such an economic recession. “We joke among co-workers that if the software control team charges into the office, it is better to throw the computers out the window,” the venture owner said.

The crackdown on software has steadily been conducted since 1999 but it has been reinforced since President Kim Dae-jung ordered a thorough control on illegal software, a cause of trade disputes between Korea and the US, during a work report of the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) on February 19 of this year.

This year’s investigations, targeting some 1,500 organizations nationwide for two months between March and April, were conducted by 21 teams nationwide formed mainly of judicial and government experts. A separate crackdown team of the police has also been launched. The teams make internal decisions as to which firms to search and when to surprise them. For example, Tuesday, one of the search teams paid a surprise visit its own headquarters, the MIC’s intelligence information industry department.

MIC policy director Son Hong affirmed that the investigation will be much stricter than most enterprises estimated and those who distribute illegal software for commercial use must be aware they will be arrested. Prosecutor Choi Jin-an added that that foreign firms were no exceptions.

However, some firms argue that it is unfair of the squad to claim software is illegal if one does not have the original purchase documents of products bought several years ago, likening the practice to accusing someone of being a tax delinquent if they do not have the appropriate tax receipt.

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