Just shout out aloud about a software piracy raid near a small or medium enterprise and it is likely to shut shop and lie low for a couple of days. Such is the chilling effect of the anti-piracy raids conducted by giant multinational corporations (MNCs) selling packaged software. These companies, legitimately, need to attack piracy and their legal and compliance teams, with annual targets, usually work together with the police.
Ironically, software piracy is one area where people don’t realise that their use of pirated software is no different from being Captain Sparrow (of Pirates of the Caribbean). Many convince themselves that software ought to come free along with their computer. Few acknowledge that using MS Office’s home version in office or using the trial version of CorelDraw for professional purposes amounts to piracy. It is a criminal offence and has civil remedies as well.
Let me share a few cases. An MIT-returned Marwari guy ran an advertising agency out of his bungalow, with over 50 computers. There wasn’t a single licensed copy of any software on his premises. On being raided by an anti-piracy team accompanied by the police, his younger brother demanded to see a warrant and the ID of policemen. My advice in dealing with the police is that it is best not to get into arguments, especially when there prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. The raiding party, already angry at the attitude of the younger brother, scanned his MacBook and discovered a trove of porn films. They then extracted a revenge that he will never forget, at the MIT-grad’s expense.
The victim reached out to me during the raid. I told him that the Sections under which he was charged were bailable and my junior would help with the formalities. A little while later, he called to say they had struck a deal and he was to be produced before a magistrate at his residence, since it was almost 8pm. I thought that was the end of it. A week later, he sought an appointment. On meeting me, he burst into tears and said he has been in police custody for seven days. The police tricked him and his brother; instead of making a simple software piracy case, they have slapped some dreaded pornography Sections against him. His laptop was confiscated and the police also told his younger brother that software piracy is a non-bailable offence; they also tricked him into purchasing some blue film CDs and added these to the MacBook, making a nice case to ensure that the older brother’s bail was rejected.
Around February-March every year, another client of mine gets accused of committing software piracy with software companies even claiming to have proof of pirated software being installed at his premises. Every year, my office shoots off a legal notice to these target-hungry software companies and things die down.
My last case is about something that has probably been faced by several businessmen in Mumbai. A bunch of goon-like persons will ‘raid’ your premises based on four things—a letter of authorisation from a software MNC, a couple of policemen in uniform who accompany them, their confidence of being able to extort some money based on your harbouring some pirated software, trial version of a software or some pirated font. The raiding party even implants pirated fonts to fabricate a case. My experience is that these are extortionists who share their booty with the police. A Google search suggests that counter-cases have been filed against such shady operators; but they keep popping up unfazed.
Where does the law stand on this issue? Well, software piracy is a crime under two or three different laws: Sections 66 to 85 of The Copyright Act, 1957; Section 120B read with Section 420 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and Sections 468 and 471 of Indian Penal Code.
Section 63-B applies to the knowing infringement of copyright with punishment including imprisonment from seven days to three years and a fine of Rs50,000 to Rs2 lakh. If the infringement is not for business or trade, one may get away with a maximum fine of Rs50,000.
Smaller companies who find legal software expensive must switch to open source software, to avoid being defamed by anti-piracy raids.