Online auctions: 60pc software is illegal

Consumers who shop for software at online auction houses are being told to be careful, following a survey of three popular online sites that found most software products offered for sale were illegitimate copies or compilations.

A survey of products from Macromedia, FileMaker, Adobe Systems and Visio offered through eBay, ZDNet and Excite@Home auction sites found at least 60 per cent of the software being auctioned was illegitimate, the US-based Software & Information Industry Association said.

The SIIA conducted the survey August 15 to August 20 after receiving appeals from the software producers that their products were being improperly sold.

"Companies said there were significant problems with internet auction sites," Peter Beruk, SIIA's vice president of anti-piracy programs, said yesterday. "They were getting calls from consumers complaining about the software they purchased."

Of 221 auctions, the SIIA found 109 sales involved illegitimate software, 72 were for legitimate software and in 40 sales, the authenticity of the products could not be determined. "It was clear that in 60 per cent of the cases, what the sellers were selling was illegitimate," Beruk said.

The survey found software products for sale online were usually copied or compiled on CDs in violation of licensing regulations.

The auction houses are cooperating with the SIIA to tighten oversight of software sales, Beruk said.

Before the survey, eBay had in place a verified owner rights program that enables content owners such as software companies to contact eBay and end an auction if they feel a licence is being infringed, said Jay Monahan, intellectual property counsel for eBay.

Now, eBay is talking with companies and with SIIA to develop more ways to curtail improper sales, Monahan said.

Nonetheless, it remains up to the consumers to make sure they are buying legitimate software, Beruk said.

"It's buyer beware," Beruk said. "Consumers have to ask the right questions. If they see software being sold at a much lower price, they should ask the seller if it is a legal copy."

Marked differences between the recommended retail price and the auction price should tip consumers off that something is amiss, Beruk said. For example, in one case the Adobe Photoshop 5.0, which has a recommended retail price of $US549, was available online for $US11.99, he said.

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