Group Takes Aim at Net Auction Pirates

In a bid to stop a “new wave” of software pirates, the Business Software Association (BSA) announced Wednesday a set of voluntary guidelines to help online auction houses curb sales of illegal software at their sites.

The guidelines are necessary because “many of the people who used to sell software at card tables at flea markets have migrated to online auction sites,” BSA vice president of enforcement Bob Kruger told the E-Commerce Times.

Kruger believes that the Internet has expanded the problem of pirated software to a “much larger marketplace.” The BSA estimates that more than 90 percent of the software sold on auction sites is pirated, contributing to the US$13 billion in lost revenues suffered by the industry annually.

Self-Policing

The BSA’s “Model Business Practices on Intellectual Property for Internet Auction Sites” calls for online auction houses, such as Yahoo! and eBay, to be proactive in ferreting out and shutting down auctions of illegal software. In particular, the guidelines call for online auction houses to:

  • Prohibit the sale of pirated or counterfeit software
  • Take responsibility for keeping illegal software off their sites by actively reviewing listings, verifying the identity of software sellers, and promptly terminating sales of illegal software
  • Respond quickly to reports of copyright infringing auctions
  • Post prominent educational messages on their sites

Amazon Does the Job

Kruger said one auction house that is already doing a good job at self-policing is Amazon, which monitors auctions at their site and already took action to stop the sale of infringing software.

According to Kruger, some of the other online auction houses do not take action to stop the sale of infringing software unless they have received a complaint from the copyright holder.

Consumer Protection

The Washington, D.C.-based BSA, a non-profit trade organization for software developers whose members include Microsoft, Corel and Adobe, said that its new guidelines are not only designed to protect copyright holders and the legitimate software market, but consumers as well.

Online auction houses may be simply high-tech swap meets, but buyers who purchase software sight unseen from Internet auction houses are at a greater risk of unknowingly purchasing infringing software than their counterparts at old-fashioned flea markets, according to Kruger.

Purchasing pirated software may save money for users, but it also places consumers at greater risk of computer viruses and gives them no access to technical support or inexpensive upgrades, according to Kruger.

Sales Gimmicks

The BSA is warning consumers not to buy software that is being sold for a fraction of its market price or that is described as “OEM (original equipment manufacturer),” “Not for Retail,” “Academic Version” or “Not Authorized for Sale.”

Some unsavory auction sellers even market “backup” copies of disks and tell users that they must own the original software to use the disks. These “backup” copies sometimes arrive as a few disks with handwritten labels and no documentation.

The BSA has been aggressive about tracking down and prosecuting software pirates. Last month the group brought lawsuits against dozens of U.S. and UK individuals whom the BSA alleges were selling pirated and counterfeit software on popular auction sites.

Other Enforcement Efforts

The group also brought enforcement actions in Germany as part of the crackdown dubbed “Operation Bidder Beware.”

“Software piracy on auction sites and the Internet as a whole is a growing problem,” said BSA Europe vice president Beth Scott. “Through ‘Operation Bidder Beware,’ BSA is sending a strong message to consumers worldwide that auction sites are a dangerous venue for buying software products.”

As part of its enforcement efforts, the BSA has also set up a toll-free anti-piracy hotline, 1-888-NOPIRACY, that consumers can call with reports of pirated software.

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