Software piracy refers to using, copying, or distributing copyrighted software without the owner’s permission. The practice violates the intellectual property rights of software developers who, for sure, created their programs with the intention of selling them.

Software piracy occurs when you use a program without paying for a license. That happens when you download a cracked application that has been hacked, so it doesn’t require you to purchase a license from the developer to use it.

Software piracy also refers to copying a program, which happens when a developer obtains someone else’s code and passes it off as something he created himself. Things get worse if he sells the application that he didn’t develop from the get-go.

Other interesting terms…

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Software piracy is illegal because it’s essentially stealing someone else’s property. And if you’re in software development, you know how hard it is to create a program and how bad it feels when someone else gets credit for your work or, worse, earns from selling it.

What Is It with Software Piracy That Attracts People to Do It?

It may surprise you to know that cost is not the only reason why software gets pirated. Another has to do with how essential a program is. The 10 most pirated software are listed in the table below, along with their corresponding license prices.

SoftwareLicense Price
Windows OSUS$139 (one-time)
Microsoft OfficeUS$149.99 (one-time)
Internet Download ManagerUS$24.95 (Lifetime)
WinRARUS$29 (one-time)
Nero Burning ROMUS$34.99 (one-time)
Antivirus (various providers)US$36 (yearly, 3 users)
Adobe Creative SuiteUS$52.99 (monthly)
FL StudioUS$737 (one-time)
Vegas ProUS$23.99 (monthly)
AutoCADUS$185 (monthly)

What Is a Common Sign of Software Piracy?

It’s easy to determine, actually. Anyone using a program they didn’t pay for is guilty of software piracy, unless, of course, the application is open source (which means everyone can use it anytime) or its developer gave it to you.

A good reference would be the end-user license agreement (EULA). Going against anything in it would constitute unauthorized use of a program and, therefore, software piracy.

Common Types of Software Piracy

Software piracy comes in various kinds, including softlifting, client-server overuse, hard disk loading, counterfeiting, online piracy, renting, unbundling, and end-user piracy. We chose three of these (the most common) and explained how they’re done.


Softlifting occurs most often in companies. It happens when an organization buys one copy of a program but installs it on multiple computers even though its license is meant for a single user.


Users can be accused of counterfeiting if they copy someone else’s software and pass it off as their own or as a much cheaper version of the duplicated application.

Online Piracy

Online or Internet piracy often occurs on peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing sites. It refers to selling illegal software online or via the Internet. Online auction sites and blogs that offer free downloads can also be guilty of this crime.

How to Prevent Software Piracy

Individuals, companies, and developers alike can protect against software piracy. Here are some recommendations:

  • For individuals, EULAs are your friends. Reading and thoroughly understanding them so you won’t commit illegal use of the software you just purchased is a must. If you suspect that your copy of the application is not the real deal, you can ask its supposed developer to check and report the incident to the authorities.
  • Companies, on the other hand, should strictly limit the number of software users as indicated in the EULA. They should ensure all employees use the program as they should—within the confines of the license agreement. Having them sign an anti-piracy agreement may be a good idea, so they will at least think twice about installing the software on their personal devices.
  • Developers, as intellectual property owners, have the most to lose to software pirates. Setting up various safety nets, including copyrights, patents, and EULAs; software product keys; obfuscation; tamper-proofing; and watermarking, is critical.

Software piracy, as established earlier, is illegal. Individuals and companies found guilty of it can get fined as much as US$150,000. That said, between paying for the program’s price and the penalty, it’s definitely cheaper to go the legal way.