Government Laws and Regulations
Partly due to the lobbying of major software producers, like Microsoft
and Adobe, the government has began cracking down on software piracy. The
Clinton/Gore administration, in particular, has been very adamant about
protecting the rights of software manufacturers and distributors, and have
enacted laws that proscribe harsh penalties for those who infringe on
Senate Bill S893
Signed by President Bush in October 1992, the bill elevated software piracy
from a misdemeanor to a felony, if 10 or more illegal copies of software are
made within a six-month period, and if the copies are worth a total value of
over $2,500. The first offense is punishable by five years in prison and
a fine of $250,000. The second offense is punishable by up to 10 years in
United States Copyright Act
Holds someone guilty of illegal reproduction of software subject to civil
damages of up to $100,000 per title infringed, and criminal penalties,
including fines of as much as $250,000 per title infringed and imprisonment
of up to five years.
No Electronic Theft Act
The NET Act made criminal the willful infringement of copyrighted works,
specifically by electronic means, even when the infringing party derives no
direct financial benefit from the infringement. Through this act, somebody
who made copies of software and distributed them through a web site, for
example, was now liable for damages. If the copyrighted works copied had a
total retail value of over $1,000, the infringing party could be imprisoned
for up to to 6 years.
The U.S. government is committed to fighting software piracy abroad as well.
In 1991, a Special 301 investigation under the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 found
that the Chinese government has been lax in enforcing software copyright laws.
In January 1992, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by China, in which
it pledged to strengthen its principal intellectual property laws, and to
treat software as literary work. In 1994, an investigation found that the
intellectual property practices in China were especially "onerous and
egregious," leading to the United States threatening China with trade
sanctions. The United States has taken a firm stance and has made it clear
that it will impose trade sanctions against countries which do not take
steps to eliminate software piracy.
Digital Millenium Copyright Act
The DMCA is the most comprehensive reform of the copyright law in the U.S.
in a generation. One of the highlights of DMCA is to make it a crime to
circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software. The
Act also outlaws the manufacture, sale, or distribution of code-cracking
devices used to illegally copy software.
The rise in the scale of piracy has led to an increase in law enforcement
resources devoted to the arrest and prosecution of offenders. The Justice
Department has created a Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and
designated prosectures in every U.S. Attorney's Office to handle software
piracy cases. The FBI has formed high-tech crime units in a number of
regions (including Silicon Valley, home to the largest high-tech crime unit
in the country) and is cooperating with local law enforcement officials in
order to combat computer crime.