Your Design Software May Be Pirated

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, {complink 907|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.

8 comments on “Your Design Software May Be Pirated

  1. hwong
    July 21, 2011

    I think that if people are not aware of their software being pirated, then it really isn't their fault.  But each company should have a governance to track all of the software being used. But I like the idea that instead of punishing the folks for using it, they really should just charge them as potential new customers. It's win win situation

  2. Tam Harbert
    July 21, 2011

    Yes, the whole focus seems to be on converting as many of these illegal users into paying customers as possible. One EDA vendor tells me that they believe they could convert as much as 30% of all illegal uses to revenue, which would amount to substantial revenue.

  3. JADEN
    July 21, 2011

    It is true that illegal use of the software can also happen innocently, I have experienced such.  Microsoft for instance can detect illegal software once you install or run windows update.  If engineering software can have integrated anti piracy protection in their software that will enforce update, once this update is installed and you are running pirated software, you will be locked out automatically.

  4. Eldredge
    July 22, 2011

    It's easy to see why pirated business SW is such a large problem. For something very easy to distribute, it is a highly profitable, although illegal, enterprise.

  5. jbond
    July 22, 2011

    I think that Codearmor is a great idea. The fact that the system can detect piracy and notify the vendor is great. The idea does not scare me, nor would it bother my company. I think this would easily be a less invasive process than in person audits. This is a product that alerts the vendor when it is being used illegally, not to spy on your computer usage. Frankly you shouldn't have anything to worry about if you’re following the rules in the first place.

  6. Kunmi
    July 22, 2011

    It is very unfortunate that we have designed software that may /is being pirated. You know what, I am not afraid of them because there areprograms and resources that detects them or that could alert anyone about them. Microsoft can detect things like this.

    Individual just need to know that they are easy to distribute and very profitable. Programmers are looking for ways by which they could make money off these people that pirate others software. They are very huge and the code enforcers or programmers  could make at least 20-35 % from them.

  7. Nemos
    July 23, 2011

    There is no doubt that piracy is illegal and that kind of actions “hurts” economical the software design companies and specially the big one's. However, if we want to see the whole picture and not a part of it, we must notice what feeds piracy. We have seen a software package that costs a lot of money. Furthermore, it is ridiculous to see all the society as a customer, for example, students don't have the economic ability to buy an expensive software package which is necessary for their studies. Although many companies have student's versions the cost is   high.

    In addition, I want to mention the following: With the existing copyright laws, we are giving the opportunity to a company or to a programmer to build a program spending some working hours and to get paid for these hours as long the products make sales.



  8. SunitaT
    July 31, 2011

    Cadence is also providing its software as a service, rather than selling the actual program.


    Thanks for the post. Providing software as a service rather than actual program is really unique and effective idea to tackle piracy. Going ahead do you think all the EDA vendors will opt  for this model ?

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