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Cloud Computing Makes Software Piracy Obsolete

The fight against file sharing has reached a new pitch as industry organizations battle file sharing as though their lives depended on it. As, in fact, they do. The foundations of the antipiracy crusade are evaporating as the cloud undermines the very notion of software piracy.

Two cross-Atlantic trade organizations with strong antipiracy arms joined forces this week in the latest public volley. The U.S.-based Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) forged an alliance with its UK counterpart, the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). The organizations will work together to combat what they call the “worldwide epidemic” of software piracy in the U.S. and Europe. 

The SIIA has been a vanguard in the fight against file sharing, litigating against suspected pirates and heading up a program to encourage whistleblowers. Its new partnership with FAST enables both organizations to more readily pursue intellectual property violations across international borders.

They picked a good time for it: Anti-piracy efforts are gaining increasing notority in the press, thanks to stepped-up enforcement efforts and legislation. In the U.S., Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), has been prolific in trying to push intellectual property enforcement bills in the House, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and more recently the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA). The latter bill – now apparently dead – would have given the U.S. Patent Office more power to hunt down trademark and copyright infringement violators for software and media.

Even without an IPAA law, U.S. intellectual property interests have successfully internationalized their antipiracy efforts. Witness the uptick in high-visibility takedowns of file sharing sites like Megaupload, which was seized last January, leading to the arrests of site owner Kim Dotcom and three employees in the U.S. and New Zealand. The arrests were based on “accusations that they facilitated millions of illegal downloads of films, music and other content, costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue,” according to USA Today.

(Of course, what governments and their corporate sponsors want doesn’t always align with existing laws. On June 28, the New Zealand High Court “ruled the police raid on internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom’s Auckland mansion was illegal and the removal from New Zealand of cloned copies of hard drives seized was unlawful.”)

BitTorrent sites, which enable the sharing of files without actually hosting the files themselves, are increasingly under attack as well. In late July, Demonoid was taken down by the Ukrainian government, reportedly at the request of Mexican authorities working with U.S. officials.

During the last weekend in August, Cambodian authorities confirmed that they will deport Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, founder of the notorious Pirate Bay BitTorrent site, after his arrest in that country on behalf of the Swedish government. Swedish officials convicted Warg, along with Pirate Bay co-founders Fredrik Neij and Peter Sunde and funder Carl Lundstroem, in 2009 of encouraging copyright violations. While the other three defendants had their sentences reduced on appeal, Warg skipped his appeal hearing, citing illness, and fled to Cambodia.

The recent string of successes and near-misses has ratched up the pressure on pirates of both media and application software. This makes the political motivation of an SIIA/FAST alliance all that more transparent: Strike while the iron (and funding) is hot.

But the antipiracy crowd has another reason for urgency, particularly as it relates to applications. Programs like Microsoft Office are migrating from the desktop to the cloud, where software piracy will be harder to pull off. Of course, anything can be stolen, and cloud-based software services like Office 365 can be hacked with false accounts and passwords. But hacked accounts into paid services are easier to police than bootlegged CDs floating around some neighborhood vendor. They don’t require elaborate international agreements and enforcement programs. Antipiracy forces recognize that the cloud is taking the wind out of their sails, so they’ve switched on the engine and are moving full steam ahead.

The availability of free software services like Google Docs will also prove disruptive to piracy – you can’t steal what’s already freely given. As such services become more pervasive, the continued claims of “lost revenue” will lose their force.

Faced with the potential of software applications in the cloud solving a big part of the piracy problem on its own, it’s little wonder the SIIA and FAST are joining forces and software anti-piracy efforts fighting as though their lives depended on it. There’s no time to waste.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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