Software (cons)piracy

Sculy: “Where are you going?”
Mulder: “To find someone who I know plotted to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate.”

From X-Files, TV series

The recent court conviction of a Filipino local businessman for two criminal cases in violation of the intellectual property rights of software giants Microsoft and Adobe Systems adds two points to the score of the Business Software Alliance (BSA). As quoted by the, the BSA Anti-Piracy Director for Asia said: “This conviction is indeed a victory for the intellectual property community and underscores the government’s efforts in promoting respect for IP rights.”

The businessman must have been unlucky for having been unable to settle it out amicably with the plaintiffs (there is no ready information as to who actually filed the cases). Assuming that the BSA was behind the filing of the criminal cases, the businessman’s fate was caused by either its inability to inveigle him into an “amicable settlement” (more on this later) or its choosing the businessman as a sample to sow fear among the other infringers of software copyrights. “Cut it out or land in jail” appears to be the message.

For the unaware, the BSA is a trade group representing 26 computer software and hardware giants banding together to stop piracy of softwares produced by them. With the center based in the United States, the 26 members are Adobe, Apple, Autodesk, Avid, Bentley Systems, Borland, Cadence Design Systems, Cisco Systems, CNC Software/Mastercam, Dell, Entrust, HP, IBM, Intel, Internet Security Systems, McAfee, Microsoft, PTC, RSA Security, SAP, SolidWorks, Sybase, Symantec, Synopsys, The MathWorks, and UGS. The BSA has been funded by the membership dues and income from settlements with companies it files lawsuits against.

The BSA has its office in Asia and has a Philippines Committee headed by Ronald Chua, formerly or currently employed in Autodesk South Asia Pacific Office. (Autodesk is member of the BSA.)

There is a specific web page for the Philippine activities of the BSA. Apparently, Perceptions, Inc. is the one in charge of the public relations and advertising for the BSA in the Philippines. The choice for the PR firm (its President claims that PR is “a force for good and truth”) appears to show the BSA’s resolve to crack down on Pinoy software pirates.

Now, my rant.

Deceive: “We’re for the software industry and IP rights”. The BSA is an elite club of software giants who capitalize on intellectual property laws to perpetuate their control over the software market. It has to do this in response to its claim of high rate of software piracy that costs its members (under the guise of “software industry”) 11 billion dollars a year. It wants to impress on the public that the software industry is hurting and that the huge loss from piracy means less funds for research and development so that more software solutions will be developed. One major beneficiary of the BSA is Microsoft, obviously because targets of “software piracy” have been their “popularietary” products.

In the homefront, in charge of “deceiving” the public is the team of BSA, NBI, PNP and the Optical Media Board. The BSA claims it is not part of the Anti-Piracy Team but officially supports it. And that support is huge. By using the PR prowess of the Perceptions, the public are sent the message that software piracy is indeed bad.

Inveigle: “Hey, detoxifying your PCs from unlicensed software is easy and simple.” The usual ploy made by the BSA is write those companies it has found to be using unlicensed software products, offering attractive terms so that the alleged violators will cut it out. Then when the inspectors/police raids take place in companies or businesses allegedly violating software copyrights, the violators are cajoled into accepting terms favorable to the software owners. One notorious term is that a lawsuit will not be filed if the raided business will replace all of products with licensed copies. I have heard a couple of stories of raids (hearsay because the raided companies would not want to expose themselves to public shame) with this arrangement offered to the raided entities.

Obfuscate: “Your boss is bad; tell on him and earn money.” The ulterior motive is to perpetuate control of the software market. The open purpose is to curb software piracy to protect IP rights. And the means is to obfuscate the minds of the unwilling and ignorant computer users. Ever read in the newspapers these spiels:

“Attention Employees: Want to Earn up to P1 Million for Reporting Software Piracy?”

“Bust your Boss! Is Your Current or Former Employer Using Pirated Software in their Office? Hit ‘Em Where it Really Hurts – Report their Illegal Software Use Today.”

“Attention: CEOs/Presidents/General Managers: Could You Be Facing Penalties of up to P1.5 Milion and/or 9 Years Imprisonment?”

Isn’t it economically rewarding on the part of the naive employees to tell on their bosses (with a hey-you-can-now-get-even-with-your-despotic-boss undertone)? And won’t there be frenzy in the companies that make the bosses decide impulsively to buy into proprietary softwares?

There are lots of reported and unreported raids of offices and businesses (most of which are internet cafes) in the past months. Worse, some crooked elements may have capitalized on the issue by pretending to be police officers. This after the authorities and the BSA officially denied the claimed raids. After a reprieve since June 22, the Anti-Piracy Team has announced its resolve to continue the raiding.

It’s not true that “software piracy does not pay.” It does as authorities and non-authorities seem to earn jackpot prizes for each big business they are able to raid. Having known the Philippine authorities for the presence of wayward elements in their ranks, there is great likelihood that this raiding has been a source of corruption in government.

And government does not even raise a finger to address this situation wherein most computer users and business persons are in complete state of being deceived, inveigled and obfuscated. The reasons why people opt for “software piracy” has not been studied and acted upon.

It’s high time that government acted upon this rampant “software piracy” by pushing for alternative ways of computing at least in government and schools. Merely negotiating with proprietary software companies in terms of software price means one side of the negotiation either does not know or does not believe in civil liberties behind software use. And we human rights advocates believe in free and open source software (FOSS) as an alternative to proprietary softwares, which lock computer users to their owners’ terms, therefore limiting the users’ choices.

Let’s stop software piracy the humane way, and we’ll also stop the software conspiracy that exists in the globe and in the homefront.

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