Microsoft South Africa’s piracy fighting strategy

In addressing copyright infringement of software in South Africa and around the world, BSA | The Software Alliance (formerly the Business Software Alliance), has been focussing more on policy and education than enforcement.

That’s the word from spokespeople for the BSA and Microsoft South Africa, who were speaking to journalists at a recent media event in Johannesburg.

The general sentiment from Microsoft and the BSA was that simply pushing the prosecution of software pirates would not win hearts and minds.

“You can do all kinds of enforcement but it’s not going to drive a change of behaviour on its own,” Marius Haman, chair of the local BSA committee said.

“We need to look at the reasons people pirate, and address them, rather than just enforcing anti-piracy laws,” added Monique Ferreira from Microsoft SA’s anti-piracy and software asset management division.

In particular, Microsoft and the BSA are not interested in prosecuting ordinary consumers for copyright infringement, corporate attorney and digital crimes unit (DCU) lead for MEA at Microsoft, Dale Waterman said.

Instead, their concern is to educate consumers about the potential repercussions of buying counterfeit software.

Downloading and running pirate software also has risks associated with it, Waterman said, but counterfeit software vendors and the issues around them was of special concern to the DCU.

Answering questions about their approach to enforcement of copyright infringement laws, Waterman said different types of piracy needed to be distinguished.

In their categorisation, three broad groups of pirates emerged:

  1. Commercial pirates: derive income from selling software they do not have permission to copy or sell.
  2. Corporate pirates: derive benefit for their business from unlicensed (or improperly licensed) software.
  3. Consumer pirates: infringe copyright for personal use and derive no income from it.

“We hold businesses selling software to a higher standard,” Waterman said, adding that if you want to sell software, you need to sell legitimate software.

Similarly, companies that derive benefit from software should pay to use that software.

However, even in cases where companies are found to be using unlicensed software, enforcement was a last resort.

Instead, Microsoft will ask a company to properly license all their software by a certain date, offering assistance where they can.

However, there were some cases where calling on law enforcement was the only option.

Waterman said although some people may not wish to believe it, a significant proportion of businesses selling pirated software are funding organised crime and even terrorist organisations.

In some cases they also found system builders shipping cracked copies of Windows on PCs that included malware.

Manufacturers aren’t necessarily in cahoots with botnet operators, Waterman said, but added it’s not impossible that companies that ship pirated copies of Windows would preload malware for a fee.

“A commercial enterprise doing this can infect a whole channel,” Haman said.

While there is a financial benefit for Microsoft to reduce piracy, Waterman said that to the best of his knowledge, Microsoft had never done consumer-level copyright enforcement.

Instead, the focus has been on trying to educate users to do the right thing, and, more recently, explaining the security risks involved in using pirated software.

Waterman said even tech-savvy users needed to be aware that when they decide to download software from an illegitimate source and crack it, they do not only put their own privacy and security at risk.

If malware happens to be embedded in the copy of the software you downloaded, “It’ll steal your contact list,” Waterman said. “It’ll e-mail your mum.”

Your friends that know better will laugh at the phishing mail that comes from you and delete it, but less tech-savvy people in your contact list might open the e-mail.

“Whatever malware you got with your pirated software will infect your friends and relatives that don’t know as much about technology,” Waterman said.

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Microsoft South Africa’s piracy fighting strategy