There's a good chance the electronic design automation (EDA) program your engineers are using is illegal, and your company may not know it until the software vendor comes knocking on your door.
Every year, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) comes out with numbers on software piracy. In May, for example, the BSA reported that PC software theft increased 14 percent globally in 2010 to a record commercial value of $59 billion. But that number primarily covers commercial, shrink-wrapped software. Over the last several years, piracy also has grown in the category of high-value, business-to-business software.
This is software that OEMs use to design and build products, including EDA, computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and product lifecycle management (PLM) programs. V.i. Labs, which sells a product that helps detect piracy in this category, says its customers have uncovered more than $1 billion in illegal software use. Based on these levels, V.i. Labs estimates that piracy could grow to more than $4 billion within the next three years. And that's only among V.i. Labs customers; the figure for the entire category would be much higher.
Engineering is among the top five sectors in commercial value of unlicensed software, according to a BSA spokesperson. The problem has become widespread in the EDA industry, according to the anti-piracy committee of the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC). The committee estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of all EDA software use is via pirated licenses.
The BSA reports that emerging economies are the driving force behind the increase in shrink-wrapped software piracy, and that's most likely behind the growing theft of engineering software as well. As engineering and design has moved offshore to countries like China and India, the likelihood that software tools will be copied increases.
There is a booming business in illegal software online, where pirates market and sell low-cost copies of these expensive packages. The thieves create cyber-locker sites, unique URLs where buyers go to download the software. Each copy of the software comes with a crack, i.e. an illegal copy of a license key. "We estimate there are more than 200 cyberlocker sites on the Web," says Victor DeMarines, vice president of products at V.i. Labs.
But illegal use of the software can also happen more innocently, according to DeMarines. "We've seen situations in large companies... [where] one engineer in one office may download one version to do just this one project, but that ends up on a server on network, then others assume it's legal and start to use it," he says.
EDA vendors are trying to figure out how to tackle the problem -- either by locking down their software tighter or by detecting illegal software use by their customers -- but it's a difficult challenge. The former can make the software, already complex, harder to use. The latter could very well irritate customers. (I wrote here about the quandary of EDA software piracy.)
Indeed, Cadence Design Systems Inc.
has started conducting on-site software audits. Cadence is also providing its software as a service, rather than selling the actual program.
The goal, say vendors, is not to punish illegal users but rather to turn them into paying customers. That's the selling point of V.i. Labs' software, CodeArmor. When integrated into engineering software, CodeArmor can detect pirated use and send information back to the vendor to help identify the user, says DeMarines. Wouldn't having such a "phone-home" feature in their design software make customers uncomfortable? DeMarines claims it would be less invasive than an onsite compliance audit.
Less invasive, still, would be if you conducted your own internal audit. Unless you've knowingly copied or bought software illegally, you would not be aware that pirated programs are floating around your company. It may be time to take a look at your software, your licenses, and your users, and assure your software vendor that you're a trustworthy, paying customer.