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Question of the day: Any legal issues with selling pirated software?

We have a Question & Answer platform here on Techzim, where visitors can post tech-related questions and get answers from the community. We try to be there a lot posting answers as well, but we don’t know everything, so it’s really the Zimbabwe tech community (thank you guys, macd, TechGuru, FREEWORLD and all you anonymous fellows!) driving the platform.

Checking the site today, I was met with the questionany legal issues with selling pirated software(.e.g. Say from torrents)?” The question has the following details:

hello guys i am a bit low on cash these days(am a varsity student) and yet i have this big collection of softwares and games. I was wondering if there are any legal complications that may arise if i sell this collection openly? Please dont mark me  i know all about it being immoral, or whatever what i just need to know is whether our current jurisdiction is mum on it , condones it etc  so i can do business(if the term befits?)?

The asker of the question is anonymous, for obvious reasons. But there some sense of ‘honest-asking’ behind it all, which is, well, interesting and worrying at the same time. So far he has one response there and it says:

Dude, its ‘wrong’ for you to have that stuff in the first place.
I don’t know about your personal values but it seems you know it’s wrong and you just want to find out if you’re going to be taken to task.

If you wanna go and be a jack sparrow, who will stop you in Zim?

Our response to him (or her) is this: From your question, it appears you do know it’s wrong. That alone should be enough to drive you to think of noble ways of making a living. As far as we know there’s some law enforcement for all copyright but the copyright enforcement of international products is not as heavy unless the company is represented officially locally. So, you’ll likely get away with it for a while.

But think of it this way, if you headed a young business that created some business software locally and the solution became popular regionally, would you take kindly to individuals selling pirated copies of the software in Kenya for example? Would you want the copyright enforced there?

If you also have some response for our desperate varsity student here, please share in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Question of the day: Any legal issues with selling pirated software?

  1. Short response:Yes they are legal issues with selling pirated software; it is illegal, regardless of medium of transmission… however, the likelihood of legal action against you depends on the jurisdiction and in Zimbabwe there are very few such occurrences.  

    Pirated software is simply software which has been duplicated and distributed without authorization and is automatically illegal. So you selling that software is illegal. Even giving it away for free is illegal if its original owner doesn’t approve. 

    Torrent sharing itself is not illegal anywhere in the world, it’s simply a method of sharing. However, the contents of the shared material and the authorization of such sharing is what is the subject of much scrutiny. Unfortunately, as a result of the heavy sharing on torrent clients of illegal material, the .torrent has been associated with illegality.

    In Zimbabwe, Copyright Act Chapter 26:05 states the law clearly as follows: 

    The acts restricted by the copyright in literary, dramatic and musical work are:
         a) reproducing the work in any material form.
         b)publishing the work
         c)performing the work in public
         d) broadcasting the work
         e) causing the work to be transmitted to subscribers to a diffusion service
         f) making any adaptation of the work;
         g) doing in relation to an adaptation of the work any of the acts mentioned in       paragraphs (a) to (e).

    The same applies for software as well. So you selling or giving away that software is definitely illegal by law. That being said, enforcement differs by region. In some jurisdictions like the United States, the system takes in seriously and such offense is punishable by incarceration. In other regions such as Zimbabwe, the law enforcers are much more laxed on this law. They are no systems in place to make the tracking down of such crimes easy. It’s like the littering offense. Littering is illegal in many places but because it is so difficult to monitor, the enforcement is not as tough. However, do be warned that in the event that someone does report you or you are caught in the act of distribution, you are liable for punishment.

  2. “But think of it this way, if you headed a young business that created some business software locally and the solution became popular regionally, would you take kindly to individuals selling pirated copies of the software in Kenya for example? Would you want the copyright enforced there?”

    the guy did admit he’s aware of the moral side of his venture.

  3. If it’s cautionary advice, you seek…there are legal issues that may arise. The risk depends on a number of issue. Off my head, there are two possible scenarios that can get you into legal hotsoup:

    1) If the software you are selling involves any on the big software companies like Microsoft, ORACLE, SAP (I need correction on its membership composition)…etc, then you will most certainly be approached by the Business Software Alliance, if you are reported. Its a group of companies that act as software piracy watch dogs. They are known to do spot checks in Banks and other big institutions to evaluate genuine products in use in those organisations. If deal with their pirated products and they hear about you, the issue will definitely end up in the courts. Amongst other legal commitments Zimbabwe subscribes to WIPO(the UN Organisation responsible for Intellectual Property) which respects copyrighted material, and the courts will be expected to act on any formal reports of violations in that light.

    Not too long ago, there was a BSA report that implicated Zim as one of the leading countries in software piracy. Some defended the slightly exaggerated report since the scale was measured per capita. Am sure CSZ and COMSA can shed light… Google too!

    2) If the software you are selling has accredited local providers or resellers, then these are likely going to report you since you will be “stealing” a chunk of their rightful earnings. You face a risk from the big to the very small software products.

    Not saying that I have never been guilty of using a pirated product. I have worked in companies that actually used them. But there is an alternative. If you can, use free and open source software. And you can have a workable business model where you can actually make profit from these. Not by actually selling the product(as this violate GNU GPL and most OSS licenses), but by selling your service. You explain to the client that the software is free but you serve for installation, configuration, customisation (if you can program), training and implementing updates. You will be surprised how much you can make if you know the product well.

    Go the FOSS route. These days there is a high-quality, open source equivalent for almost every popular commercial offering out there. Who dosent know The GIMP(vs Photoshop), Inkscape(vs Illustrator), Star Office, Libre & Others(vs Microsoft Office)…list goes on.

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