Software piracy tough nut to crack in Canada

Canadian business software piracy rates went up 1.4 percentage points between 2001 and 2002 (from 38 to 39.4 per cent), but even as piracy rates continue to rise, many companies aren’t willing to make the initial investment in new security measures that could help solve the problem, according to one university professor.

For the past five years David Lie, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s electrical and computer engineering department has been working to stop software piracy at the hardware level – work that he said runs parallel to the computing industry’s ‘trusted computing’ platform.

Companies like Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., and Intel Corp. realized that there is a demand for having computers that are more trusted, Lie said.

The main problem in software piracy is that digital content is too easy to copy and steal, he said.

According to the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA), the group was formed by Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel and Microsoft in 1999 to create a new computing initiative that would provide for improved trust in the PC platform.

“Companies have been looking into this and my research parallels their work in trying to place security functions in hardware rather than the traditional method of placing security solely in the software,” Lie said.

One example of how Lie is securing hardware is by embedding a unique key on every processor so that information that has been encrypted from one processor can’t be decrypted on another.

According to the report, which was conducted for the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) by International Planning and Research Corp. (IPR), Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Quebec have the lowest software piracy rates and are the only provinces below the national average of 39.4 per cent.

The highest instances of software piracy came from Prince Edward Island with a rate of 65.3 per cent.

Allan Steel, director at large for CAAST in Toronto, said in order to stop piracy, people need to understand that the information found on small, insignificant-looking compact disks do have value to them, and added that many software programs have price tags of thousands of dollars.

“If you equate it to a vehicle, if a vehicle was stolen I’m sure that people would take a different perspective on it,” he said.

Diana Piquette, license compliance manager for Microsoft Canada Co., agrees with Steel and added that those stealing software are often the same people that would normally find the idea of theft very wrong.

“They would never walk into a store and take something away from the store, but when they make a copy of something, they don’t think it’s quite the same thing,” Piquette said.

The big losers in software piracy are the start-up companies that can’t absorb the added costs that piracy piles on an organization, she added.

Steel explained that many times companies don’t purposely go over their software licensing boundaries, and that organizations often have the best of intentions to buy additional licenses, but often these good intentions don’t lead to payments.

Oftentimes organizations will get caught in a crunch and copy a couple of applications over onto additional machines, and once the crisis is over the company simply forgets to pay for the added licenses, Steel explained.

“And another situation that happens all too often with organizations is that as a department upgrades its hardware, they take the old hardware and put it into another department that continues to run the software that’s on it, and load the old software that was used in that department onto a new computer,” Steel said.