Laws prohibiting pirated software are stricter now than they ever have been before.

Simply possessing pirated software could land you in serious legal trouble.

The fine for every incident of title infringement is up to $100,000 and possible jail time. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and neither is unknowingly purchasing pirated software.

softwareThe best way to protect yourself is to deal with legitimate, reputable vendors. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself when purchasing software through other sources.

If it Sounds too Good to be True…

It probably is a scam if the price simply sounds too good to be true. Rosetta Stone software, for example, costs more than $400 for most programs. Anyone offering this software for $50 or $100 is probably selling pirated goods. Watch out for deals that simply sound too amazing, and avoid them to stay safe and legal.

Lengthy Explanations are Suspicious

Like a wayward child coming home after curfew with a long story, detailed explanations of how a company is legal should be treated with suspicion. A reputable vendor with a solid reputation doesn’t need a page dedicated to making you believe that they are trustworthy. Be wary of any agency that dedicates valuable space on their site to convincing you that they are legitimate.

Special Instructions are a Red Flag

Most software comes with special activation codes. Those codes are important, and you aren’t getting the full benefit of the software without them. If you are offered software that requires you to go through a special procedure to get it working, then you are probably dealing with a hacker. Keep looking for another offer to avoid legal problems.

OEM, NFR, Academic

There are special versions of software available for different purposes. OEM software is provided with new computer systems or hardware, so you should be wary of software with this label. NFR indicates that the software is not for resale. Designed for evaluation and beta testing, this software is not meant to be sold for profit at any point. Academic versions are extremely affordable, but they are only available to a select group. Usually found on college campuses or through education sites, they are only available to students, teachers, and faculty members of educational facilities.

Official Packaging

If someone offers you a hot new release in a basic jewel case, then you are right to suspect that you are looking at a pirated copy of the movie. The same is true of software. If the packaging is generic (or just plain missing), then you should question the purchase. Plain jewel cases with no instructions, no activation code, and handwritten information are bootleg copies.

CDs Only

When looking at software online, read the description carefully. Legitimate software comes with directions, instruction manuals, activation codes, and official packaging. Descriptions that claim they are a full version but warn that you will only receive CDS are usually illegal copies.

Internet Warning Signs

Most reputable software sellers developed an online presence years ago. Be wary of any seller who has not been online very long. New sellers should be treated with suspicion and possibly avoided. Companies that do not provide a full street address and phone number are also suspicious. If the domain name is a series of numbers rather than an actual name, then you should look for another seller. Reputable companies will also offer warranties or a refund period, so you should be wary of anyone who does not stand behind the products they are selling. Finally, if the seller states that the software cannot be registered, you should save your money and keep looking for another deal.

Pirates abound and they are anxious to take your hard earned money while saddling you with an illegal copy of software. In addition to breaking the law, you are also taking a chance that the software won’t work, is incomplete, or has a virus that will harm your system.

Reporting pirated software is easily done with the help of the Internet.

Sites like Adobe, Corel, Macromedia, and Microsoft all have anti-piracy information and details on how you can report piracy and help put a stop to this detrimental activity.

Michelle Barbour is a freelance writer who blogs about technology. For a free, legal download, check out 7zip download for your open source file archiving needs.