What exactly are the risks of using pirated software?


Adobe CS5, for instance. Is the risk solely that the publisher could sue, or is the property that I create with the pirated software also in jeopardy? And as a corollary, what if I use someone else's credentials to obtain an educational discount?

Legal Ethics

asked Mar 28 '11 at 04:30
146 points
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  • Fraud is no way to start or run a company. – Tim J 13 years ago
  • @Tim: Actual practice suggests otherwise. – Jay Bazuzi 13 years ago
  • Yeah there is a strange arguement that Microsoft owes a lot of its success to piracy during the 80s and 90s. Easy to get, easy to copy, spread like wildfire ... then once you got into a legit organisation or advising a legit organisation ... buy Microsoft was the cry. Not that its good, and it better not be my software but piracy has had its place in the development of the world to date. Kenneth and Keith your answers are the ones I would back. – Robin Vessey 13 years ago
  • I'm not sure about Adobe but I know that Microsoft specifically forbids academic versions of their software from being used in a commercial enterprise. – Stoj 13 years ago
  • Guys, this is a troll trying to provoke, look at the gravatar... – David Benson 13 years ago
  • Actually it is a serious question; I was honestly curious what info/opinions the community has on this. I think a lot of people face this question; when it comes to expensive software, the temptations of illicit discounts and piracy are great. And like I said in a comment below, I hadn't heard arguments against it laid out in a cogent manner before. So all the answers here are much appreciated. And my gravatar is real! The photo is from a mustache competition I was in once. Don't hate. – Amit 13 years ago
  • Just think of it like this, you have a product that you've spent years of development (cash outs, blood, sweat, and tears involved). Then you found out that your product was illegally obtained, without paying you for royalties, etc. How would you react? – Joset 12 years ago
  • Because you are asking specifically about Adobe, they have a $20 - $49 / month Creative Cloud suite program which allows you to use all their products by paying on a monthly basis. This is by far the fairest I have seen any company be - and I'd be disappointed if anyone pirated their software for commercial purposes after this. – Saurabhj 11 years ago

8 Answers


Forget about lawsuits.

What about your own self-respect? Is your self-respect less valuable than the cost of some software? What about the karmic consequence? Is the karmic price less costly than a discount obtained under false pretenses? And what about these consequences to the other person whose credentials you use if they cooperate in the ruse?

If you are intending to build software, think seriously about "taking" from a fellow software builder, even if they are a big company.

answered Mar 28 '11 at 05:40
Kenneth Vogt
2,917 points
  • I mostly agree with you, but will make a counterpoint just as a thought exercise... What if you use a pirated copy of the software because you have no real budget for it, but then later buy a full license after your company gets some funding or momentum? – Brian Karas 13 years ago
  • @Brian Karas, just because I like exercise... You will have budget for what you put your mind to having budget for. I would use the analogy of running someone over in the crosswalk, then heroically saving their life. I don't think the last act makes up for the first. – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago
  • Running someone over does measurable physical harm. What harm is done to Adobe by downloading an application? Is *less* harm done to them by a user getting used to Pixelmator, and never purchasing Photoshop, if that is what fits their budget? – Brian Karas 13 years ago
  • I mostly agree with you too. I will end up buying the retail-priced software (because I do want to support the livelihood of my fellow software developers), but the $1800+ price tag does sorely tempt one in another direction. And I know plenty of people in my situation, especially when it comes to Adobe products. And while the ethical considerations are legitimate, I'm really wondering what the exact legal consequences might be, because I've never heard those laid out. – Amit 13 years ago
  • @Amit, I didn't mean to hijack your main concern. I see some lawyers (or at least qualified commenters) are weighing in on your stated question. There is another karmic question here, that is: Where does Adobe get off charging such obscene prices? (That's about Adobe's karma, not yours.) The answer is more like what @Brian Karas suggests, use a more affordable product. IMHO the answer to their karmic demise is not to plunge into your own. – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago
  • +1 for "karmic consequences" – Iammilind 12 years ago


Kenneth is right in that your biggest problems are ethical and moral, rather than legal.

However, since you asked about the legal ramafications, yes, you should be concerned about software piracy as a business practice. Not only can the publisher sue, but the Software Publisher's Association has a very active and aggressive campaign finding and prosecuting businesses engaged in software theft. Employees, contractors, and those you do business with (like printers and designers) are all being actively recruited to disclose the pirates among us.

A lawsuit would certainly put most startups out of business due to the economic and legal distractions involved. Why jepordise your entire business for a few dollars?

answered Mar 28 '11 at 07:10
Keith De Long
5,091 points
  • +1 for actually answering Amit's question (unlike me below ;-) – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago


I agree with Kenneth's answer regarding self-respect, karma, etc... However, the issue is much bigger when you have employees.

How can I expect our employees to treat our company fairly if I'm cheating the guy who developed our software?

When your company uses pirated software your employees see that you are OK with a bit of cheating. They realize that leaving early is probably OK if they don't get caught. They realize a little bit of lying is OK in most circumstances. They realize that your ethics are at least a little bit grey and they might not always be able to believe what you say.

Using pirated software has a real and long-term affect on your company culture. And the affect is not good.

answered Mar 28 '11 at 07:12
Dave Feyereisen
963 points
  • +1 for setting the right example for your employees... Demonstrate the values you want them to exhibit toward you, your company, and your customers. – Brian Adkins 11 years ago


Personally I agree with the morals that are in play when it comes to piracy, I worked under the supervision of an I.T administrator at my company, and typically we dealt with a couple of programs that require volume licensing to be purchased. However, there were also programs that had a blind eye turned on whether or not the company should invest in licensing for these programs. This decision has always been based on a company saving money for profit, more than spending to please software vendors with an over priced license requirement. It seems to me that the constant of any relative or similar situation such as this one, is that the drive for justice, and equally and oppositely, the drive for piracy, is the profitable benefits in the end.

A company may have more than enough finance to support the legal responsibility of purchasing software for commercial use, but choose to take a shortcut with piracy, in order to save time and money, for the sake of their own desire for the company's accomplishments, power and reputation. A software vendor may have put their blood, sweat and soul into the programs they have designed, and are outraged when they have seen their software spread illegally across the web, without receiving the profit for it.

(This refers to what i have said about the drive for financial benefit. It isn't this company "calling the kettle black" a little bit?, what kind of shortcuts did they take passed security measures or the going the extra mile (spending more money) to make sure that there software isn't easily available to the hacker genius sitting in his own home, manipulating the software codes that the company was not prepared for, once they were ready to launch their software? Today's generation is based around the world wide web. Piracy will never be stopped, my question to a large software company would be, why fight the war, when you are the ones controlling it.

Your recognition can never be unseen, just because people don't want to spend money they need to climb from the bottom of their own ladders in life, doesn't mean their actions will pull you off of the top of yours. they could never reached your achievement, but life isn't about achievement. It's all about profit right??

answered May 22 '13 at 21:31
31 points


The law may not respect my opinion on the matter, but I think it's a more logical approach to the issue.

If the software is integral to your money-making and you cannot afford it up front, it's my opinion that it's better to pirate it, make some money, and then buy the software as soon as is reasonably possible. I'd definitely assume that the law and possibly even the corporations don't agree with that opinion (i.e. you can't contact them ahead of time and get some sort of delayed payment deal out of them,) but in the end, you will have bought the software (win for the software company.) The alternative, on the other hand, is that you never start a business in the first place since you can't afford to, and the software is never purchased (loss for the software company.)

Although not applicable to your situation, I also think that pirating software (not media) is fine so long as you don't make any money off of it. Why? Because you learn the software, and if, in business ventures, a need for the software comes around, then not only will you already know how to use the software (win for you,) but you will be far less likely to buy competitor's software (win for the software company.) If, however, you never learned their software, you'd be much less likely to buy it, and personally, if I was under the impression that a software company was so aggressive in their anti-piracy measures that they'd sue someone that merely tinkered with their software and never never made anything of value (i.e. willing to destroy people's lives for no legitimate reason,) then I would do everything in my power to avoid purchasing their software. If a company like that sues a poor person for $500,000 or some similar amount of money, they might as well have put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger. I take that pretty seriously and don't approve of it when it comes to situations where they should've just turned around and walked away. For example, many years ago, the one Metallica CD that I owned got thrown in the trash when Lars went off on Napster, trying to justify the ridiculous lawsuits for hundreds of thousands of dollars brought against teens and their parents. A multi-millionaire that wants to destroy the lives of those that're already poor... how disgusting!

At any rate, I think these are two constitute legitimate exceptions to the "piracy is bad" rule. Of course, trying to put these exceptions into law would be difficult and make enforcement difficult as well, but it's sort of an honor system. If you're making money with a piece of software, you should buy it. Same goes for free or open-source software. If you're making money and can afford it, help those that helped you.

answered Mar 28 '11 at 13:57
129 points
  • I second the idea of supporting free/open source software with donations or programming talent kickbacks. – Ape Inago 13 years ago


For the sake of completeness;

Software 'piracy' is covered in the UK by the 'Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988';
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/contents Piracy is a nick name, illegally copying software is Copyright Theft. Piracy is when you steal a ship at sea. In the UK, the Copyright Act declares that copying copyrighted software (covered as Literary Work Part 1 3a of the act) is illegal, with some exceptions (covered in Chapter III).

Before I talk about the risks I want to clarify that software piracy is unethical and immoral, and you shouldn't do it.

As for the actual repercussions/risks, you will be breaking the law if you 'copy' the software in any way. That includes copy pasting installation files (although a singular or small number of files will be unlikely to be seen as a large enough portion of the total works to be breaking the law). As the 'user' of pirated software however you are not breaking any laws.

From what I understand, the laws in the US are very similar, but not the same.

answered Oct 17 '13 at 21:29
11 points


Here are the pros and cons in my opinion on using pirated software:


  • It doesn't cost you anything.
  • You don't lose out if you decide that the program isn't for you or a competitor has a better product that does a better job. You didn't just lose $2000 when a competitor has a similar and more effective product for $1000.
  • The chances of getting a virus or malware are low, but there is still a risk. A lot of keygenerators have rootkits and trojans which can in some cases cause damage to your operating system and/or files.
  • If you own a company using pirated software you face the risk of being litigated by the company you've stolen the software off. Software companies tend to go after companies more-so than individuals as companies will most likely have to pay more if there is a court case as opposed to an individual.
  • You're morally bankrupting yourself.
  • If you're using pirated software you don't actually realise someone most likely paid cash for the cracked licence you are using (not in all cases) and that they're probably going to get into a lot of trouble as a result of your infringement. I've seen a lot of cracked software using credentials of someone who purchased it (their first and last name) making it easier to go after them and make all infringement liable to them.
  • Pirating software can become addictive.
  • No support for the product
  • No free updates
answered Mar 28 '11 at 09:33
Digital Sea
1,613 points


I did some custom software for a company that was later purchased and they made sure they bought all the code from me and that there were no other issues. Nobody wants to buy a law suite.

answered Mar 28 '11 at 11:44
Jeff O
6,169 points

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