Piracy has been the bane of software companies since the first CD was bought and underhandedly passed along to friends. Certainly peer-to-peer file sharing is alive and well, albeit usually done across the 'Net instead of via personal hand-offs these days. Then there are the mobile app heists that add to the toll. While the preferred mode of illegal distribution may have changed over time, a method to effectively stem the tide has yet to be found. More than a few software makers are eyeing the cloud in the hopes that a means to finally stop piracy resides there.

Pam Baker has written hundreds of articles in leading technology, business and finance publications. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology, eight books and an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG). She can be reached at bakercom1@gmail.com and on Twitter at @bakercom1.

There's plenty of motivation to find a way to thwart software pirates. A recent Business Software Alliance (BSA) global survey (PDF available here) found nearly half the world's personal computer users - 47 percent - acquire software through illegal means most or all of the time.

Now, in fairness to users, not all piracy is intentional. Certainly there are numerous online and offline sources selling pirated software to unsuspecting users. There are also companies that are totally clueless as to what software their staff is using and whether it is licensed or not, a situation further complicated by the consumerization of IT and the swell of unauthorized virtual machine spin-ups by business users.

And it doesn't help that some software manufacturers make it difficult to restore or reinstall licensed software - a situation that prompts legitimate licensees to pluck an easy fix from the ever-accommodating pirates.

But by and large, software piracy is intentional and it's costing developers billions, $59 billion and counting, according to BSA. China had a higher percentage of these regular software pirates among its PC-using population than any other country surveyed, followed by Nigeria and Vietnam.

All of which is spurring software developers to cast a hopeful eye at the cloud. Since code is not distributed in the cloud model, they wonder, can the cloud help stop piracy, or will the increased access only make piracy worse?

"It is too soon to say whether widespread cloud adoption will substantially reduce intellectual property theft," says BSA President and CEO Robert Holleyman.

The cautious answer is appropriate considering that pirates are more agile than most of the methods that are designed to thwart them. Alas, the cloud will be no different and pirates will remain elusive.

"In fact, IP theft may take new forms in the cloud - from under-licensing or illegally sharing account credentials for software that is delivered as a service, to using cloud configurations to surreptitiously deliver pirated software," explains Holleyman.

But don't think you're free to freeload. Groups like BSA and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) are dedicated to hanging offenders with staggering penalties. Then there are all the individual software vendors out there who are increasing the number of audits they do each year. Pirates are getting busted more frequently, and fined more heavily, as a result.

"We will monitor these trends carefully to ensure lawful best practices take hold and become the norm," says Holleyman.

And, indeed, they will. Yes, they surely will, matey.

Photo by CRBowman