Software piracy is bad for society, its creators and governments

Software piracy or piracy of any kind is a bad idea, it is bad for the society, it is bad for the creators, it is bad for the governments.

By Gagandeep Sapra

It's 9:30 AM, a frantic call from a customer says he is worried, he has been getting numerous calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft, and they are saying he is in trouble - he asks what should he do - he has all the licenses, but he has been requested by someone from a email id, that he needs to get an SAM Audit done, he also mentions the call was not the most pleasant one, and bordered on harassment, he apologises that he is calling first thing in the morning, but he is worried sick and knows no one else to turn to.

Later that same evening, I am taking a stroll down Nehru Place (at one time, Asia's largest computer market), today a sad state of affairs about with street hawkers selling fake mobile phone accessories, street food amongst other things and people lurking behind you, saying Software - Microsoft Office, Windows, Adobe Photoshop - Rs. 50 a Disc, even for your Mac Machine.

A friend calls, says he wants to buy a computer for his kid, he is getting a laptop from Lenovo that comes pre-loaded with DOS, he wants to confirm which version of pirated Windows should he get, Windows 8 or Windows 10, on enquiring why he does not buy the pre-loaded machine, he informs that it is roughly Rs. 10,000 more expensive, in that Rs. 10,000 he can buy his child a printer, and a bunch of more accessories - I propose that piracy is theft, he says but I am not going to use it in the office, it's for my child at home.

These are all real stories, and if you are someone who has been in the technology space, either as someone who is a known geek to their family and friends, or someone who just loves technology - I am sure you have faced this scene too, and it makes you wonder - why is software so expensive,

But Why is Software So Expensive?

Creating a Software, even the smallest game that you play on your mobile phone takes time, people have to think about algorithms of what will happen next, write code, make it look beautiful and then ensure it is safe from hackers and attackers. All this takes machines, manpower and intellect that adds to the cost of software. It has long been debated that software should be made free, and there are Free and Open Source Alternatives for everything, whether Linux as an Operating System, GIMP as a Photo Editing and Manipulation Software, Open Office / Libre Office and even Google Docs as Office Suite Alterantives, Inkscape as an Alternative to a Vector Drawing Program such as Corel Draw - Yes they require you to learn again, and at times  you may get irritated that it does not work the way you worked, but remember - if you want a free tool, there is one available, if you want to use someone's creation you need to pay for it.

The Need of Selling a Machine without Operating System

A big debate out there is that why do companies sell machines without operating system, they know I will run Windows on it. Well there are two sides to it, you can always run Linux on it, and if you need to run Windows - you can get a licence as per your need. If you are a part of a Company, an OEM Licence (Original Equipment Manufacturer) licence may not be suitable, as the Operating System manufacturer (in this case Microsoft) wants you to get - what is called a paper licence - which is  an agreement to use. There are also complex variants such as Single Language, Home, Pro, Enterprise, Education amongst others and this is a complexity that companies need to do away with.

The Single Language Variant is the cheapest, designed for emerging markets such as India where piracy has been very dominant, this is the cheapest way of getting a licence.

You can compare Operating System Editions at []

Unlike Apple computers where the Operating System comes pre-loaded and you get the revision / upgrades and updates all free in the future, Microsoft requires you to buy the operating System separately (though it may come bundled with your machine) and pay for upgrades. Recently Microsoft offered free upgrades to anyone running genuine copies of Windows 7 and Windows 8, putting the thought across that they may also move on to a free upgrade policy, just like Apple and the Linux world, but there is no confirmation about this.

Cloud Licenses

Microsoft now offers Office 365, that runs in the cloud, Adobe has Creative Cloud that lets you use Adobe Photoshop and Other programs on a Monthly Pay Basis, and even Autodesk is figuring their side of things out with stuff like Autocad 360 and players like SAP are working on their own cloud models, while large emerging startups such as On-Shape an Amazing Autodesk alternative, Canva that lets you create quick and fast graphics for social media and other uses, to Zoho Docs that offers you an amazing alternative to Microsoft Office are changing the way we use software. Yes you may not be able to use some of them when you are offline, and they may not be the ones that were taught to you in school or used by your peers - but open document formats and exchange possible, the possibility of sending a PDF to each other to review the document makes all this possible, and this is only the first step towards the future.

Why aren't Companies Running After Pirates

This is a Question I ask myself everyday. I run an office out of Nehru Place, and bump into software pirates in the parking lots, at the Metro Station, while walking through the market and even at times when getting in and out of an eating joint - offering all the possible software versions, and variants for literally a pack of chips. There can always be temptation, but these guys have nothing to loose or on them that can really get them into trouble, till hard proof is found. They usually have verbal conversations, carry a list of all the software that they have, and at the first sense of knowing that you maybe from the legal side, they either disappear or change their story.

While Software companies work hard in cracking down, and ensuring their software is not pirated, piracy in India is still rampant. An Old Debate of whether you blame the thief or the person who buys from the thief ensues, and one can easily blame each other, but change lies in us, and we need to resist the temptation of buying pirated software.

Yes there maybe times that you need it only for an hour, for a month - and software companies are realising this and releasing their software on the cloud, today a Photoshop license is as little as Rs. 499 a month, a Microsoft Office license as little as Rs. 300 a month, and more companies join in - software piracy may eventually disappear - but for now, it remains a valuable question on why Software Companies are not running after these pirates in Ritchie Streets, Lamington Roads, and Nehru Place markets - how difficult is it to catch them.

But What About that Email, that Phone Call - The  Sheer Bullying

Oh Yes, in case you got an email, here is what the email may read like. It will offer you to go through a SAM Audit (Software Asset Management), the email will come either from an id, that would look like or, there are even id's that are gmail or yahoo ids, the first thing that you need to do is have a written communication and get their point across.

Understand why you are being asked to do a SAM Audit, assess all your licences, keep your paperwork together, and ensure that the audit is done in all it's honesty. In case you are getting mails from or remember they are vendors and associates of Microsoft and are calling you on behalf of the company. Chances are that you may even get emails from large firms such as PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) or KPMG asking for the audit. Request them to get you an email and in touch with someone from the main company. Read through the email carefully, and see if you can find if the request is genuine or not - There are times where people have been bullied into buying licences by dealers - creating email ids like and the business getting scared (knowing it was pirating software)

Though leading companies do hire third parties to do their audits, these third parties need to stop acting self-righteous and avoid intimidation on calls that they do. Complaints to software companies have usually not been heard patiently, but when we brought this up we were informed that companies do monitor how these calls are done, and remind their agents to deal with this sensibly. There are times these agents are under pressure of performance and turn around numbers, the dealers have to meet their targets and the game becomes a very dangerous cocktail - there is no need to get under pressure, or get hassled up - The Companies in their Interest want you to own a legal licence, and it is in your business interest that you do to - have a chat, sit down, talk.

Can I be Forced to Buy?

This is a tricky question, if proven that you are pirating, it is in the companies right to ask you to purchase the software. You can though claim that you will not be using it in the future, but pirating in the past has costed a company. A SAM Audit will typically bring out what you need to buy, and the dealer working with the auditor will give you a document on what you are supposed to buy. You are still at will to call for third party quotes, and work on licensing your software and applications that you use.

The Legal Side of It

The Law though complex, is pretty clear on this front.

If it is proven that you have been pirating software, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of six months to a maximum imprisonment of three years, and be fined anywhere between fifty thousand rupees to Two Lakh Rupees.

In case of a second or repeat offence and or violation, punishment for the second and for every subsequent offence is minimum one year imprisonment and maximum 3 years and a minimum fine of one lakh rupees and maximum is two lakh rupees.

In case any person who knowingly makes use on a computer of an infringing copy of a computer program shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven days but which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to two lakh rupees.

The penalties above are in addition to any civil actions that may be taken by a copyright holder.

The last bit is where the akwardness comes up, the person who is making copies - the software pirate, lurking in those Lamington Road, Ritchie Street and Nehru Palace markets of India can be put into prison for a week, while you as an end user can be put into jail for six months minimum.

While in an Ideal world, we would Piracy to totally go away and it needs a societal change and acceptance of someone elses property being stolen, and saying no to it. What is sad to see is the behaviour of teams that reach out, words like "Harassment", "Manipulation" and "Bullying" come to mind, and people end up feeling helpless.

Software Piracy or Piracy of any kind is a bad idea, it is bad for the society, it is bad for the creators, it is bad for the governments, what is the need of the hour is to make licensing simple and straight forward - in 2016 when a lot of us work off tablets, we telecommute, use the same machine for our home and our office - it is passe to have complex licensing which is different for an organisation, an individual and an institute - what we need to move to is a straight licensing policy - that is transparent, on the organisations website, backed by customer support / pre-sale support where one can have a dialogue.

For now, after 3 months of on-ground research, with lawyers, software companies, business owners, computer dealers and software licensing partners, I am more confused than I was, and can only say there is no straight answer. For me, I do most of my work off the iPad - I buy all the apps that I need, and where I need to use a computer, I either use a Linux Machine or a MacOSX Machine with all the necessary licenses that I need to purchase. Yes Windows maybe king in the office, Yes Photoshop and Corel Draw may be software you need to have access to, Yes Microsoft Office is still the dominant format of document exchange - but wait and think, if you need to use it - pay for it, if you don't need it everyday - go use it at a friends place who has a licence, or outsource to a company that can build your graphics, your power point presentations, your Corel Draw print files.

Gagandeep Sapra, is a technology entrepreneur who is commonly known as the big geek.

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