Software cannot be touched or felt
For a more vivid understanding of software, let’s try to understand what hardware refers to. Hardware refers to the physical, mechanical parts of a computer or console—the things you can touch and feel, like the keyboard, the mouse, the video card and the monitor projection tube.
Examples of software include word processors, imaging programs, web browsers, games on computers and on consoles, and media players.
Software, then, is the part of computer or console operations that, together with the hardware, enables the user to work and play on a computer or console. It refers to the programs which run on the hardware of the computer—the operating system, the web browsers, the word processors, the slide show makers and the imaging programs, for instance. Computers and consoles would essentially be empty shells, of no more value than scrap metal, if software were not available to make it alive.
Legitimate commercial computer software is available through three main ways: they can be
- Retailed in shops in CD-ROMs;
- Pre-installed with a new computer; or
- Retailed through the Internet.
It is possible that illegal exchange of software transpires online when the copyright holder has not given the permission for the exchange to take place.Back to top
Creating those bits and bytes entails hard work
All software programmers are really doing when they are programming, at the electrical level, is to create voltage differences at appropriate parts of the computer hardware to generate the bits and bytes that eventually compose a program. This seemingly worthless process actually forms the basis of computer and console use throughout the world, and development costs major software companies in the West millions of dollars.
The following is a selection of the most prominent software companies:
- Microsoft develops a line of products that includes the widely used Microsoft Office, an office suite which comprises a word processor, a slide show maker and other tools. It is headquartered in Washington in the United States.
- Adobe’s line of computer software products include Adobe Flash, a popular animation program employed by websites to deliver mini-websites and games.
- Symantec develops, among others, the anti-virus software North AntiVirus. Both Adobe and Symantec are headquartered in California in the United States.
Major software titles (not smaller gaming and educational software) by such developers are usually retailed at about US$100 and upwards. The latest versions of Microsoft Office, Macromedia Flash and Adobe Premier Pro.
There are also independent programmers who program and sell their own software. These people work for themselves and not for companies. Software made by these programmers do not usually find their way to retail outlets; they are instead sometimes distributed as shareware. Sometimes, programmers may choose to disable the program after a specific amount of time, or to cause some features to be made unavailable to the user, until they receive payment for their software.Back to top
But not all software has to be paid for
There exists a class of software known as freeware, which refers to software that is available to the user at no direct cost to him. There is an increasing number of software titles being distributed as free software, and sites like CNET.com are excellent sources for download of freeware. (Free-to-try software is also available on CNET.com.)
Some developers go further to release the source code of their program to the public so that anyone is free not only to use, but also to redistribute and modify the program. Such software is termed free software. (Note the difference between freeware and free software!) An example of free software is the office suite OpenOffice.org; the program and the source code can both be freely downloaded. Programmers all over the world work on the source code of the program. Further examples of free software include PHP, a server-side programming language, and Linux, an operating system.
Due to free software’s less restrictive nature, one would hear of copyright infringement of free software rather rarely. Thus, in further discussions, this website will focus more on proprietary software and less on free software.
And who said there’s no free lunch in this world?Back to top
Many methods to infringe copyright
Examples of counterfeit programs, Syndicates exist in many part of the world, copying and selling massive amounts of copyrighted software.
[Picture credit: neodelphi from flickr. Licensed under CC by-nc 2.0]
On an organisational level, syndicates reproduce and sell large amounts of unlicensed software to the public. The act of (usually massive) reproduction and sale of unlicensed copyrighted material is known as piracy, and this is exactly what these syndicates are doing. If these syndicates were anaerobic bacteria, the strict enforcement of copyright laws mostly by developed countries would be oxygen—with the latter, the former rarely survive. It should then come as no surprise that most piracy syndicates are based in developing countries, where enforcement of copyright is less strict.
The use of software patches, or cracks, on software also qualify as the copyright infringement of software. People apply cracks on software primarily to remove usage limits on the trial versions of software. As advanced features that are locked away in a trial version are often actually available in the program files, cracks are able to enable features without any payment. The idea is even simpler for time-limited trials; cracks simply lift the usage timer to enable the user to use an originally time-limited program for as long as he wants.
On the individual level, people often want help their friends and co-workers save some money by giving them a copy of a piece of software that they bought. After all, caring is sharing, right? However, for many programs, this actually runs afoul of copyright laws as software licenses typically do not allow for the same copy of software to be run on two or more computers.
Some people also download software over the Internet, frequently through peer-to-peer file sharing programs. In parts of the world (e.g. Singapore) where legislation on piracy, and its enforcement, is strict, the Internet can become a major source of illegal software. It is much harder for the government to block out Internet downloads as compared to their removing pirate hawkers from the street.
Gaming consoles like Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox typically possess a built-in mechanism to prevent pirated game discs from being booted. Gamers who want to use pirated software on their consoles often modify their consoles to disable the mechanism so that even pirated game discs can be booted up.Back to top
Did they say they lose two billion pounds to piracy yearly?
Photograph of video games, the games industry claims a loss of two billion pounds annually to piracy.
[Picture credit: duluoz cats from flickr. Licensed under CC by 2.0]
The following are some statistics to sketch the extent of software piracy:
- BBC reports that the games industry claims it loses two billion pounds to software piracy every single year.
- The worldwide average for the percentage of pirated software in the overall software market was 35% in 2004. This statistic tends to be higher in developing countries; China has a 90% rate of software piracy, for example.