Software piracy is the copyright infringement of software, typically through copying, selling, or buying copyrighted software. There are several acts that may be considered copyright violation:

  • Copying and distributing the software directly – This is what most people think of as piracy. This type of violation will subject a person to a civil lawsuit for copyright violation and may be even criminal liability.
  • Downloading a pirated software program – While file sharing is most commonly thought of in terms of music and movies, many software programs are also illegally downloaded.
  • License violation – Most software is purchased with a license agreement, which limits the use of the software, and the violation of this license can be copyright infringement. The license typically is in the form of a pop-up that appears when the software is initially installed and the user must click to agree to it before the program is installed. The license restricts the use of the program, such as limiting the installation to a certain number of computers, typically one or two.
  • Resale – Some licenses claim that in buying the program all that is purchased is the license to use it and not the program itself, and thus, the buyer cannot sell the program to someone else. However, most courts have ruled that resale is allowed as long as the license agreement is not violated in other ways. The law on this issue can be somewhat contradictory given that several courts have ruled that this is a violation.
  • Circumventing Software Restrictions – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits the interference with any anti-piracy protection included with the software. For example, using a program to de-code any anti-piracy protection that prevents the software from being copied.

Back-Up Copies Exception

It is not a copyright violation to copy software for the purpose of creating a back-up copy for personal use. Thought many licenses provide for this directly, federal law also provides it.

Copyright Infringement Fines

For civil penalties, copyright infringers may be found liable for statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per work infringed. And if it escalates to criminal penalties, fines may be as high as $250,000 per offense and up to five years in prison.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The law of software copyrights is very complex and ever changing. If you have been accused of violating electronic copyright laws, you should consult a lawyer immediately. An experienced intellectual property attorney can advise you of your rights and any possible defenses, as well as represent you in court.