Stop, Thief

Q: I recently purchased a new computer that was pre-loaded with Windows XP. I downloaded PowerPoint and Excel files on disc from my hard drive at work (Windows 98) to transfer to my new PC, but now I’m having trouble reading and opening files. Can you help?
–Name Withheld

A: Hmmm. Your question puts me in a moral bind. I would love to answer it, but I can’t. Here’s why: First, the software you downloaded from work belongs to your employer. If you made a copy to use on your home PC, you’ve just committed what software vendors such as Microsoft (and the law, for that matter) consider piracy.

Each piece of software is owned by the company or individual that produces it. This is called intellectual property. When you purchase a copy, you’ve purchased a license to use that copy of the software for a particular machine (called a seat); of course, most vendors let you make a backup copy or install the software on the same PC if, say, you need to reinstall it because of a failure.

Now, while I might not always be in favor of the practices of software monopolies, I have to respect their right to license and sell their products. Keep in mind, too, that you’re putting your employer at risk. According to the Business Software Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, in 2000, more than $2.6 billion was lost in the United States, and $11.8 billion worldwide, because of software piracy (yes, that’s what it’s called). And companies are becoming increasingly concerned (and vigilant) about protecting their valuable intellectual property. Plus, your boss could face fines of $150,000 or more if this is discovered.

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