Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pirated software battles in Philippines

A recent raid by the NBI in Manila illustrates the mess of issues dealing with software piracy. The National Bureau of Investigation raided AMA Computer College, Inc. this week following complaints by Autodesk and Adobe that the school uses pirated software in its computer laboratories, prompting authorities to conduct a raid. The authorities confiscated around 30 computers. The school denied that it uses unauthorized software. Atty. Angel Enrico Mira, corporate secretary of AMA said  “the raid was conducted in a Gestapo-like manner”, and “students were threatened” and “we were forced to suspend classes.” The raid appears to have been coordinated by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) whom the school accuses of coercion.

Software raids often lead to ugly headlines.  Software is unauthorised often because it was downloaded as a pirated version, or copied onto additional computers without licenses. This may be done without the company’s knowledge even by employees (or students as alleged here). Secondly the remedy is legalisation by buying the appropriate licenses, which is typically done shortly after the raid. In addition confiscation of computers effectively shut businesses down these days.  Targets like schools are never attractive either. 

“Instead of listening to our reasons, the BSA attorneys, were coercing the company to purchase additional licenses from them amounting to around P100 million. These representatives, in the presence of NBI agents, also declared that our company has to pay NBI agents 20% of whatever settlement we can arrive at. Said acts are tantamount to illegal marketing,” the school said. 

The BSA has faced such negative publicity before, in fact it is one of the usual problems of their work. This is precisely the raison d’etre of the BSA to take the flack, so individual companies don’t. In one sense they have a very effective raid and deterrent system, since businesses must pay up for licenses or won’t get their computers back. This kind of copyright enforcement is arguably a rare success in the IP enforcement landscape.  But dealing with corrupt enforcement officials however appears to be one of the problems too. However righteous indignation from raid targets is still usually a cover for the fact that they did not properly ensure their software was legal.   So few raids actually happen for IP enforcement, that those that do are more usually clear cut, where the infringement was gross and the evidence overwhelming.  

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