I just bought a copy of Pro/Engineer Wildfire on eBay for $100—what a steal, since it normally retails for around $5K.
In fact, it literally was a steal since it was a pirated version of the software. But as to who actually was getting ripped off the most, well that's where my story gets interesting.
Software piracy is a big deal. According to data from the Business Software Alliance, software piracy rates in countries with large numbers of engineers like China and Russia top 85 percent. That's enough to give any software company a conniption.
But even here in the U.S. where the piracy rate is much lower (21 percent), I found out just how easy it was to get my hands on a pirated version of CAD software. After only a few minutes online, I found an auction on eBay selling "Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire."
That's not to say that the vast majority of software sales on eBay aren't on the up-and-up. It's perfectly legit to sell certain types of new, unopened software, and some companies grant license transfers of used software. In fact, eBay's Jed Clevenger, category manager for computers and networking, says that software is a strong growth driver for the online auction company, and that he has seen consistently strong demand from business buyers. Moreover, he told me that CAD software is routinely bought on the site by professional designers.
Clevenger told me that selling an unauthorized copy of software is in direct violation of company policy, and that eBay polices its auctions for scofflaws. But, clearly, not everyone gets caught. In my case, the vague description of the software and current auction price ($35) were a tip-off that the seller might be a sleaze.
Smelling a rat and a story in the works, I put in a maximum bid of $100. At this point I emailed the seller with a question about what version he was selling. He emailed me back (Version 2.0), and added (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) that I could buy the software for $35 direct from him.
I elected to continue on with my little eBay escapade, and won the auction for $98—plus some surprising and unexpected "extra" charges. The seller insisted that I pay for shipping (from the U.K.) and added a surcharge for taking a check from a U.S. bank instead of a money order. Total bill: $117.00.
The package arrived a week later. It contained an unmarked CD in a brown envelope (see below), containing the Student Version of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire—a far cry from the full-featured, professional version that I thought I was getting. I could have bought the same thing online, license and manuals included, for $146.00. Students often get it for free.
So here is where I should come up with a cliché or some pithy statement like "buyer beware" or exhort engineers to take software piracy more seriously. But I thought it would be way more fun to ask readers what they think about this complicated topic. Turn to our MAIL column (page 18) for some interesting comments, and join our conversation online at http://rbi.ims.ca/4399-509.