BBS Piracy And The Copyright

Recently, The Toronto Star published an article entitled RCMP seizes
BBS, piracy charges pending. The RCMP have possessed all computer
components belonging to the “90 North” bulletin board system in Montreal,
Quebec. The board is accused of allowing end-users the opportunity to
download (get) commercial and beta (not marketed, test) software.


After a four month investigation, the RCMP seized ten micro-computers
and seven modems. In addition, they found software applications of major
corporations valued at a sum of approximately $25,000.00 (It is estimated
that $200 million dollars are lost in revenues from software piracy,
according to the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft CANST}). For a
fee of $49/year, the user was enabled to download such software as
WordPerfect, Microsoft DOS,Windows, Lotus, Borland C++, dBase IV, and IBM
LAN which are all copyrighted by The Canadian Copyright Act. The RCMP
acted in response to concern from the users who stated that they were not
sure whether this software could be distributed electronically.


Yves Roy, sergeant of RCMP stated that charges will be laid in early
December under paragraph 42 of The Copyright Act. Conviction under this
act carries a maximum punishment of a fine of $1 million dollars, and/or 5
years imprisonment.


Because newspaper articles are very biased in one point-of- view, it
is difficult to look at both sides of this situation. But let us discuss
piracy in a more general manner. Software piracy is the act in which
someone takes a copyrighted portion or whole of software, then
electronically copies and/or distributes it, with or without modification
of any sort. The software is distributed to other people and/or
organizations who financially or otherwise charge/trade for the software’s
use, and lacking authority or permission from the company or person in
which the software is copyrighted by.


According to the article, the “90 North” BBS satisfies the software
piracy definition and is therefore guilty of the act. The BBS is further
liable if the software companies decide to file law suites against them.

This is all fairly evident, but we need to ask ourselves whether The
Copyright Act and its punishments are fair for modern society. To answer
this question, we need to look at piracy and how it affects the world as a
whole.


One may wonder how “90 North” makes its money. Just to stay at a
break even point, it needs 2,500 members! The answer is that the BBS does
not buy the software from retailers. It buys the software from
“pirate/cracking groups” such as The Humble Guys (THG), International
Network of Crackers (INC), National Elite Underground Alliance (NEUA),
Software Exchange (SEX), Public Enemy (PE), etc. (most of the groups are
deal in the U.S. only). But how do these organizations get their software?
From various places around the world such as Europe, the pirate
groups pay people who work in software companies to send them commercial or
beta software. Then the pirate groups hire “crackers” (people who alter
the program’s code) to un-copy-protect the software. Once this is done,
the pirate groups ask various U.S. BBS’s to pay them for this
un-copy-protected software. Then, as you already know, the BBS asks the
end-user for an annual fee to have access to the BBS. So, for an
individual to risk his job for a fast buck, many people are able to get
software at much of a discount.


Canadians, however, are far luckier than the United States. Canadian
pirate BBS’s have a policy “you get as much as you give” (at various
ratios), meaning that the amount of software you give to the board, is the
amount of software (in bytes) you may receive; and no fee is required. As
software gets bumped from one BBS to another in the states, it eventually
makes it way up into Canada, where BBS users have the opportunity to get
commercial software simply by giving the board other software.


So what does all this activity tell us? This tells us the people are
willing to go to great lengths to get software at a lower cost, or possibly
in exchange for other software and are succeeding in their efforts.

Although more than 50% of their income is from other companies which do not
pirate, this posses a problem for the software industries. By fining a
single bulletin board out of the thousands in North America, there would be
little accomplished. Not to mention the fact the it is extremely difficult
to prove and convict people under the copyright act.


This is how the scene looked in 1980 – posing a huge problem of
business and the industry. The picture is much different now. What did
companies do to overcome the problem (The Copyright Act didn’t help too
much!)? Businesses made programs such that one would require a manual,
product support, other reference material, etc. So, now when somebody
“illegally copies” an application, they need this extra material in order
to use the software efficiently and effectively. There are still some
quirks, as someone could photocopy a manual (though fewer people would
spend the extra time and money). But nevertheless, the software companies
have had success in slowing down the software piracy process.

In today’s society, software is at far the least income source for
corporations such as WordPerfect Corp. They make their money from
individuals purchasing extra manuals, reference material, supplementary
hardware, and calling product support. Software companies are conscious of
the pirate world and the changes they have made. Some companies actually
want you to take the software. With the SHAREWARE concept, one evaluates
the software, and then pays if s/he feels it is a worthy product.

Companies are, of course, satisfied with the current conditions. Most of
the companies are still in business, and still bringing up more
technological advancements. The companies, in one sense , have outsmarted
and beaten the pirates.


From BBS’s, users have to opportunity to view software and evaluate
it before they pay the high cost of the extras. Programmers also have the
opportunity to view other works and learn from the advancements, or find
the errors in the beta (or commercial) versions. Like all laws, The
Canadian Copyright Act needs to be modified with the changing society.

The act as of now is having little effect.The Copyright Act needs to be
changed so it reflects, without distortion, the views of individuals and
corporations. A law is made to keep order, and if it doesn’t do that,
then certainly it needs modification.