Intellectual Property

Pirates in the Modern Age: Fraudulent Online Vendors

On the open seas, pirates cut a dashing figure, tough and menacing. Their colorful image is the subject of movies and of endless imitation in costumes and books. However, modern-day pirates have no such image. In fact, their identity comes from their unseen presence.

They're known only by their web sites, e-mail addresses, and seller ID numbers. These pirates sell unauthorized computer software and have been targeted by a software industry group in lawsuits across the country, and world.

SIIA Sues Online Software Vendors

The main trade association for the software and digital content industries is the Software and Information Industry Association* (SIIA). In November 2009, SIIA filed six software piracy lawsuits on behalf of one of its members, Adobe Systems Inc. The suits allege the six defendants named have illegally copied and sold Adobe software online.

A press release identified the six defendants by name, web site name or eBay Seller ID, and city and state. It also identified the name of a separate defendant who had already been sued in another suit as "John Doe" before his full identity was known.

Over the past three years, SIIA has filed more than 100 lawsuits against various people claiming illegal sales of counterfeit software on eBay and other web sites. In some instances, SIIA has located the suppliers of the pirated software. Criminal charges were brought against some of the defendants.

Use Caution When Buying Software

Many consumers receive e-mails or other offers for computer software products at unbelievably low prices. SIIA warns if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. For most buyers, it's nearly impossible to know in advance whether software is legitimate and works properly.

You may even experience computer viruses from trying to install the software. The great risk in purchasing from an unknown seller is you'll likely never be able to get your money back if something does happen. And, you may be at a complete loss for maintenance and customer service.

Report Suspected Piracy

If you have unknowingly purchased pirated computer software, you should:

  • Immediately contact the seller and request a full refund
  • Contact the authorities, such as the local police or prosecutor's office, and theĀ attorney general's office
  • If you've purchased the products through eBay or another web site, contact their Customer Service department immediately
  • If you've suffered extensive damages, seek the advice of an attorney to discuss the feasibility of filing or joining a lawsuit against the seller
  • You can also contact SIIA, or the software's manufacturer, as both have greater resources to locate, identify and pursue fraudulent sellers

If you're running your own business and are looking to set up a computer system, avoid the temptation to cut corners by buying software, hardware and IT support from illegitimate sources.

If you're asked to sign a contract to use the equipment, seek the advice of an attorney in your area to review the contract before you sign it. Basic principles of contract law govern contractual disputes, and it'll be important to understand the terms of the contract before you enter into a binding agreement.

* LexisNexis is a member of SIIA and was recently nominated for their CODiE Awards.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I bought a computer program and it installed a virus on my computer. What can I do?
  • Will the SIIA help me track down a fraudulent software seller?
  • Can I be held liable for buying and using pirated software if I had no intent to do so?
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