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News and Insights

Criminal Software Copyright Infringement

January 1993

Many companies in the U.S. have had the dubious honor of receiving an unexpected audit letter from the Software Publishers Association (“SPA”), charging them with illegal copying of popular software programs and threatening a civil infringement suit unless the SPA is permitted to conduct an audit and assess damages for all illegal copies on the company’s computers. As if this were not enough (and it wasn’t enough to discourage widespread illegal copying within many companies), things have now gotten substantially worse for companies who make unauthorized copies of software. The criminal section of the Copyright Act has been amended to provide for criminal penalties for illegal copying of computer software. For example, the law now provides for fines and up to five years imprisonment for illegal copying of more than 10 copies, having a retail value of as little as $2,500. Clearly, these amendments to the copyright laws change the stakes for companies that buy one copy of a program and make illegal copies for use by other employees, or look the other way while employees do so. The message is clear: any company that is not auditing its own computers to avoid illegal copying is taking an unacceptable risk.