Online piracy: Torrents and takedowns

Software pirates are making use of legitimate file-hosting sites to store illegal content.

In the first six months of this year, Paul Fornier, the Business Software Alliance's manager of Internet investigations, sent more than 2 million "takedown" notices to Internet service providers. The notices ask the ISPs pull the plug on auctions, peer-to-peer networks and Web sites that sell or distribute illegal software.

Using proprietary software tools, Fornier and other investigators monitor online auction sites like eBay and software trading sites such as iOffer.com to spot activity involving counterfeit software.

The BSA sends takedown notices to ISPs, not individuals, because "the ISP can affect whether or not the user has access to the Internet," Fornier says. "Most ISPs have an agreement for service that users won't undertake illegal activity."

But cases involving online auctions account for a mere fraction of the BSA's investigations. What's more troubling these days, says Fornier, is the growth in illegal activity at legitimate file-hosting sites. In essence, pirates stash illegal content in a "cyberlocker" on a legal file-sharing site. "Individuals will upload an entire software program online and then post a series of links [at popular forum and blog sites] by which a person can download the full copy of the product," Fornier explains.

The BSA has also gotten some file-hosting sites to remove illegal "torrents," or files shared via peer-to-peer networking software such as BitTorrent.

The BSA frequently refers cases to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement. The agency is especially interested in cases involving organized crime and those that are "particularly egregious," says Andrea Sharrin, deputy chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section at the Justice Department.

"There have been reports of an increase in crime syndicates involved in intellectual property crimes," Sharrin says. Those groups use profits from the sale of pirated software to fund other illicit activity. "It is perceived as a low-risk, high-profit offense compared to other crimes," she says.

NEXT: Software piracy: The whistle-blowers' motives

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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