On a recent trip to Shanghai to research an article on “fakes,” I strolled into the Xiangyang Market. Thirty minutes later, I strolled out with copies of Adobe Acrobat 3D, SolidWorks 2006, AutoCAD 2007, and PTC Wildfire. Total cost: $22.00.
Coming back to the U.S., I have to admit I was more concerned about the six-season set of The Sopranos stashed in the bottom of my bag. I hear they’re even training dogs now to sniff out counterfeit DVDs. But a bored-looking U.S. customs officer waved me through without a second glance
Notwithstanding the relative ease with which I proved one can buy illegal software in China (piracy rates upwards of 91% here, after all), it’s a brazen ring of software pirates operating right here in the U.S. that’s making all the recent headlines. According to a press release issued by Autodesk, a Lakeland, Florida man recently pled guilty to selling illegal software at significantly discounted prices over the Internet. AutoCAD, which retails for around $3,750.00, for example, could be had for a mere $500.00 at the website BUYSUSA.
That seems like enough difference in price to at least be asking a few questions. But the idea that “If it seems like too good of a deal it probably is” apparently didn’t occur to that many people, as the pirates sold some $2.47M worth of illegitimate software before the FBI shut them down in October 2005.
In this case, though, the adage “You get what you pay for” did hold true, as it was the buyers themselves who ultimately brought the whole operation down, says Sandy Boulton, director of License Compliance at Autodesk. “We had a number of people contact us looking to register or upgrade software they had purchased at BUYSUSA, only to find out that they didn’t have a legitimate copy.”
During the lengthy two-year FBI investigation, Autodesk could only twiddle its thumbs in frustration while the website continued to sell its software. Now with the site shut down and one conspirator facing a sentence of up to ten years and a $500K fine and cooperating with investigators, the case is coming to a close. The guy even has to return his flotilla of yachts.
Boulton, who spends 100% of her time on license compliance issues (hence her title), says that piracy rates in the U.S. have remained steady at around 21% for the past several years. But, she says, the science has evolved. The Internet now plays a much bigger role, with Autodesk even monitoring sites like eBay 24/7 for fraudulent auctions. “We bring them down and they just pop back up,” she says. “But it’s usually easy to identify them as illegal because they’re such cheap sales.”
This latest case, however, demonstrated a whole new level of audaciousness.
“We don’t usually see pirates being quite this open with their activity in the U.S.,” says Boulton. “The more typical pattern is someone outside the U.S. operating a website that has more intricate ways of hiding the money.”
No matter how ingenious the sellers are getting, Boulton points out that buyers can avoid getting duped simply by being skeptical about an unusually low price.
Note to self: Don’t call AutoDesk for upgrade.
Karen Auguston Field, email@example.com