Software Piracy - Laws & Penalties
People who use computer software may not realize that when they purchase it, they do not become the owner of the copyright to that product; they are only purchasing the right to utilize it within the restrictive guidelines imposed by the publisher. These restrictions are typically described in the licensing documentation that accompanies the product. Subsequent misuse of the software without authorization from the publisher is, in fact, theft of intellectual property, which constitutes a crime.
Most often, software licensing documentation dictates that the purchaser has the right to load the software onto a single computer and make one backup copy. Additional installation, distribution, or reproduction of the software in ways that the license prohibits is a violation of federal copyright law. Any person(s) practicing or participating in any of these illegal acts can be held liable. Possession of and/or use of illegally reproduced software, regardless of the originator of the duplication, is also against the law.
Software piracy is a very serious crime and violators may be fined and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Liabilities may fall under both civil and criminal law. Civil action brought forth by the owner of copyrighted software can not only prevent further illegal use of the software but may also incur compensatory, monetary damages. Actual damages have been known to include the dollar amount of loss due to the theft, the estimated value of funds profited by the thief, and statutory damages which can be as much as $150,000 for each individual program copied. If the software copyright owner chooses to involve the government, criminal prosecution may also occur. If convicted, fines of up to $250,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to five years are possible.