NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2006
Play it straight: Avoid Pirated Software:
Find out how to determine if your programs are legit
and the benefits of owning the real thing

By Sharon Oosthoek, Microsoft® Home Magazine, Articles, Tips + Tools for Better Living
mindshare@microsoft.com (click to email author)

Ever been pleased to find the little variety store on your corner is selling a computer program at a bargain-basement price? Or you've learned a friend of a friend can get you a deal on the latest games? If so, you could be unwittingly using pirated software.

Debi Lascelle, a self-employed editor in Ottawa, was certainly surprised to learn she was using pirated operating system software. Lascelle bought a new system from an acquaintance last year, but ran into difficulties after an electrical problem in her home crashed her hard drive. When her Nerds On Site technician asked for the disks to reinstall the operating system, Lascelle had no idea she was even supposed to have disks. As a neophyte computer user, she had bought her system assuming the preloaded software was legitimate. It was not.

Constable Judith Laurence of the RCMP's Federal Enforcement Section says software piracy is "making a copy of a company's software without permission from them." And according to the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST), 39.4 per cent of software in this country is pirated.

In Lascelle's case, having pirated software cost her dearly. Not only did she originally pay $1,000 to the acquaintance for the software, she then had to fork out another $1,000 to buy legitimate operating system software. "I thought, 'I'm running a business doing government contracts and I have to have legal software. It's got to be legitimate. I don't care what it costs," she says.

Spot the real thing
It is possible to be unaware the software installed on your PC is pirated, says Brent Renouf, an anti-piracy investigator with Microsoft Canada and a former Mountie with an expertise in fraud. He says pirates are incredibly sophisticated and able to mimic the most up-to-date security features.

Laurence, whose job it is to investigate software piracy in Canada, recommends making sure you buy your product at a legitimate store. "That's not to say it's impossible to get pirated software at a legitimate store, but if you do, you can go back to them and get help," she says. In fact, pirated software may alert you to the fact it is pirated. John Harbarenko, co-founder of Nerds On Site, says that because pirated software is often copied repeatedly, it may come with viruses, causing your computer to slow down or even crash.

And, most importantly, pirated software doesn't come with upgrades, warranties or technical support, meaning if something goes wrong, you're likely on your own. "People could definitely find themselves without support, even from third parties," says Harbarenko.

When it comes to your Windows XP operating system, one way to find out if your copy is legitimate is through a recently launched program called Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA). A simple online validation process tells you if your product is supported by Microsoft and allows you to take advantage of special offers and download programs.

To participate, input your Certificate of Authenticity (COA), the 25-character string of letters and numbers that comes with your copy on the Is your copy of Windows genuine? site. If you had Windows preinstalled when you bought your computer, the COA label should be stuck to the CPU. If you bought the operating system separately, the COA should be on the top of the box.

Click here (http://www.microsoft.com/resources/howtotell/ww/default.mspx) for tips on how to tell if your other Microsoft products are genuine.

What to do with pirated software
As with most companies, Microsoft's website allows users to report piracy. You can also report illegal software to your local RCMP office or Crime Stoppers. The information is passed on to Laurence's team, which can't take on every file, but will take note of complaints and start an investigation if it's a serious case.

Laurence says computer users are guilty of software piracy whether they make a single copy for a friend or many copies for resale. "You can make one backup disk for yourself, but you can't share it with friends and family," she explains. This complies with the Canadian Copyright Act, which says it's illegal to knowingly distribute, rent or import for sale any illegal copies.

However simply having illegal software is not against the law. "The penalty is if you're manufacturing and distributing it," says Laurence.

Sharon Oosthoek is a Toronto-based journalist. As the mother of two very busy boys, she's interested in computing only when it makes her life easier.

Nerds On Site - http://www.nerdsonsite.us/

Certificate of Authenticy - http://www.microsoft.com/resources/howtotell/ww/coa.mspx

Is Your Copy of Windows Genuine? - http://www.microsoft.com/resources/howtotell/ww/windows/default.mspx

How to tell if your other Microsoft products are genuine? - http://www.microsoft.com/resources/howtotell/ww/default.mspx

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