by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, July 1998

Finally, the seemingly never-ending saga is coming to a close. This is the last of my series on the ins and outs of software piracy. Again, I must warn you that this is a report from the trenches, not a legal guide. This, as they say on all of those legal discussion shows, is the penalty phase of the trial.
Listing many different ways to pirate software begs the question, "What happens if I get caught?" The short answer is, to paraphrase the common expression, "Don’t let the cell door hit you in the butt on the way in." Yes, piracy at a high enough level (two grand at retail) is a federal felony, carrying with it all of the usual benefits of a felony conviction. For this offense that includes up to two hundred thousand dollars in fines and a couple of years’ free room and board in a federal "hotel" - and that’s per occurrence! I’m sure it also does wonders for your employability and credit rating.
And, just to cheer you up, on top of the criminal implications, there are also some unpleasant civil law possibilities - try company and individual lawsuits usually starting out at a minimum (based on my observations) of fifty thousand dollars!
The term "individual" here means you. There is a big push on to pursue the people in the chain of command who actively pirated software, gave the order to someone else to pirate software, or even passively allowed piracy to happen when it was within their sphere of responsibility to prevent it. This means that even if you hate your employer and have a good enough resume to get another job if your employer is bankrupted by assorted fines and settlements, you still need to be aware of piracy issues just to cover your own butt. Even something as seemingly harmless as neglecting to prevent employees from copying software onto their home computers can make you eligible for lawsuits and possibly even prosecution.
The first victim of the legal attack is the system administrator. Please note that possessing the actual title "system administrator" is not required to put you in jeopardy. Whatever your real title, if you’re the one who has been shanghaied into monitoring the network, you’re elected as the system administrator and, therefore, have a target painted on your back.
The important thing to remember is that for the subordinate, the Nuremburg Defense ("I was just following orders.") simply doesn’t work. (If you don’t get the historical reference, then get thee to a library! Try looking up a little event known as WWII.) (In fact if you don’t get the literary reference within the previous parenthesis, then look up "nunnery" in Shakespeare’s Hamlet - and no, that’s not Babe’s little brother.) (Ha! And you thought that you’d never need all that "useless" information that you pretended to learn in your high school English and History classes.)
For the superior, in turn, the Sergeant Schultz Defense ("I know nothing.") also doesn’t cut it. (If you don’t get the television reference, then get cable and look for Hogan’s Heroes reruns. If you do get this one, then you are probably from my generation and wasted your formative years watching too much television - just like I did.) If management of the computer system is anywhere below you within the chain of command, you might also have a target on your back. Barring a successful implementation of "plausible deniability" - a term invented to describe the Eisenhower administration’s policy toward its lying about the U-2 spyplane flights over the Soviet Union. Used, that is, until they got caught in the lie due to the downing of one of the planes. Oops! (All right, I’ll admit it. This reference didn’t come from high school. It came from watching PBS and The Discovery Channel. I guess I’m still a child of television.) Essentially, it was a precursor of the Sergeant Schultz Defense.
If you think that you don’t need to keep exacting records, create and enforce company anti-piracy policies, or purchase software tracking products, then you could have a problem. Following these procedures may be the only way to preemptively stop a minor inquiry from becoming a full-blown investigation. They can be used to counter an unfounded accusation or to unravel a misunderstanding without a lengthy and expensive court battle. They are cheap insurance against spending a lot of time and money defending yourself.
With the apparent risks on the table, what are the odds that you will get caught? Well, for example, think about that non-English-speaking cleaning lady that you yelled at the other day. She tells her daughter about her terrible employer. The daughter just happens to be a computer whiz in her high school. She carefully instructs her mother on what to look for and what "garbage" to save. Then they call one of the 1-800-FINK phone lines. (No, that’s not a real number.)
The next thing you know, the daughter has a college fund - we’re talking ivy league here, not community college. Meanwhile, you are hip deep in Software Gestapo backed by federal agents, are missing your file servers and half of your workstations, your employees’ home computers are being scanned, your company is out big bucks, and you are facing some serious personal legal fees. Yes, you guessed it. There are reward programs for people who turn in software pirates. As you may have also surmised, disgruntled employees are frequently sources for leads. I’m sure that dissatisfied customers, competitors and even estranged spouses are also popular sources.
The one last bit of advice I can give to anyone who has pirated software, either accidently or on purpose is to KEEP YOUR @#$%^&* MOUTH SHUT! I’ve always idly wondered why people brag about some petty theft like stealing towels and knickknacks from hotels, which to me seems like wearing a sign that says "I don’t have personal ethics, so don’t deal with me, since I might not have business ethics, either." I am totally at a loss as to why anyone would cop to or even brag about software piracy, potentially a felony!
For example, I recently attended at a non-computer-related social event at which I overheard a specialty software vendor brag (at high volume in a public place) about being equipped with all of the tools necessary to crack any CD-ROM-based copy protection scheme. He described how he had used that technology to illegally copy dozens of different software CDs onto new writeable CDs for both his personal and his employer’s use. Finally, he offered to sell this technology, at cost, to any of the new friends that he had made at this function. He even offered to direct them to the appropriate piracy-oriented Web sites so they could adapt the system to any new protection schemes that might thwart them in the future.
After finding out that I am in the computer business, people often go out of their way to tell me about the various ways in which they have ignored or at least stretched the limits of licensing rules. They even tell me details of sometimes blatant piracy. Please - I don’t want to hear about it, and you shouldn’t want anybody to know about it. I would suggest that you don’t even talk about weaknesses in record-keeping at a company where there is absolutely no piracy, unless it is part of a discussion on how to improve things. Loose lips, even in this law-abiding situation, could result in an incredibly inconvenient and possibly expensive investigation.
Meanwhile, my parrot (now clean and sober), inspired by the recent release of a movie starring a parrot, has winged his way (in his case, literally) west to Hollywood in search of stardom. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the parrot movie seems to be tanking, reducing the demand for intelligent parrots in future flicks.

�1998, Wayne M. Krakau