BSA says beware of geeks bearing gifts

26 May 2004

Businesses are being warned against replying to email purporting to sell software that appears authentic but is in fact illegal. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), an anti-piracy watchdog group, has issued guidelines to help companies buy software legally online. The move follows a rise in reports of unsolicited spam email that offers pirated software via the web.

According to the BSA, the spam mails often link to sophisticated websites, including mail order sites, where software appears legitimate by being disguised as original equipment manufacturer (OEM) software. Often, graphics and manufacturers’ logos on the site make it appear to be genuine. However Beth Scott of the BSA said that such web pages are: “increasingly the vehicle of choice used by criminal organisations to dupe businesses and consumers into buying illegal software”.

The BSA guidelines for dealing with the risk of pirated software via email include several general and specific tips. As with other kinds of spam, recipients are encouraged not to reply directly to any such mails as their email address may be distributed to other spammers as a result. Businesses are also advised to keep their antivirus software up-to-date, to guard against spammers getting access to personal information from a computer.

Those tempted to buy software offered via email are urged to review the software manufacturer’s own website. If the seller isn’t listed on the manufacturer’s website as a recognised dealer, buyers are advised to proceed with caution. Unusually low prices are another giveaway, the BSA said: if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Buyers should also take care to avoid sellers offering ‘back-up’ copies of software as this constitutes copyright infringement. Another warning sign is the ‘compilation’ CD, which contains software titles from several different publishers on a single disc.

Before proceeding with any purchase, buyers should obtain the seller’s address, if possible. If the product turns out to be pirated, businesses have no course of action if they are unable to contact the seller after the goods have been received. If the seller’s address is not easily visible on the site, this should be cause for suspicion.

The BSA claimed that a even a software dealer’s clean complaint record may not always be a guarantee that buyers will receive a genuine product. Where there is any doubt, potential buyers should conduct general web searches about the dealer’s site in order to determine that it is bona fide.

Finally, buyers who suspect software piracy, counterfeit software or possible fraud are advised to contact law enforcement agencies or the Business Software Alliance at

By Gordon Smith