Copyright watchdog sleeps while IRC pirates play

The Business Software Alliance has been caught unawares by the next great dealing place for pirated software--the Internet.

Software piracy, once confined to disk swapping, bulletin boards and dodgy dealers hawking counterfeit copies, is now thriving on IRC (Internet relay chat) channels.

Now, software pirates and customers have global access to each other, can advertise their wares and transfer files.

In New Zealand, IRC servers are sponsored by the Internet Company (ICONZ) and Telecom. A perusal of the ICONZ server nz.undernet.org found plenty of New Zealanders taking part in discussions devoted solely to pirated software. These come under the channel name #warez.

Games appear popular but there are also messages from people wanting copies of Borland C++ and Visual C++.

BSA vice-president Ron Eckstrom was not aware of the situation when contacted by Computerworld New Zealand and would not comment without investigating. However, the official line is that any transfer of software without a licence is piracy.

ICONZ operations manager Lynn Harden says the ISP is opposed to software piracy in any form. "It would be totally against our own interest.

"At the same time, we are an Internet service provider and as part of that service we sponsor an IRC server which we don't charge for and we don't have any control over what files are on the IRC network.

"At the end of the day IRC merely provides another means of communications. If there was no ability to send files through IRC then people could just as easily send them via email. IRC doesn't provide any form of file transfer that isn't available anywhere else on the network."

Harden believes software companies and organisations such as the BSA have to educate people more about the drawbacks of software piracy.

Steve Jenkins, Microsoft New Zealand's liaison with the BSA, says while the BSA in the US is seriously looking into the problem, the local group remains focused on more traditional forms of piracy.

"As legal distribution of software over the Internet becomes more widespread, we'll see a lot of tools and technology come out to prevent transfer of pirated software happening--technology such as digital signatures, and tracking systems.

"However, the number one focus in New Zealand is aimed at the more traditional routes. At the moment we are preparing a case against a software user group which was sharing disks around. We run test purchases, buying PCs from shops known to provide counterfeit software, to see if they provide us with any."

Jenkins says it is difficult to lay responsibility with the ISPs. "They should be doing what they can to prevent it but really what can they do?"

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