For over a year, a software company watched a single pirated license for a one of its programs go around the world.

If the U.S. government’s recent seizure of more than 70 copyright infringing websites seems extreme, an experiment by antivirus company Avast shows exactly why governments are cracking down on piracy like this. When Avast noticed that one of its software licenses was being shared illegally, it decided to track it around the world to see how many people would use it.

A year and a half later, the license was used by 774,651 different people in 200 countries, with even the Vatican City installing the license on two computers. Apparently, the Pope needs to get his IP laws in order too.

Now, Avast is turning that frown upside down by trying to convert these hundreds of thousands of pirates into paying customers, or at least into users of Avast’s free version. The pirated license won’t work anymore, and will instead display a prompt with links to legitimate ways to use the program. “It was quite interesting how fast it went, but at some time the party has to end,” Avast spokesman Lyle Frink said.

The pirated license was first sold to a 14-user firm in Arizona. It isn’t known how it made its way to warez and other file-sharing websites, but Avast notified the firm and replaced its license, while telling them to make sure that the new license remained secure.

Avast’s master plan in the matter is working, as it says there have already been conversions from pirate to customer through the new prompt. This may be the smartest way to deal with piracy yet. Tracking pirated licenses and bringing down the legal hammer is a major pain in the butt, bad PR, and arguably doesn’t work to deter many people. Tracking those licenses and doing something to ensure that they become an advertisement instead is a genius move.

Still, the mega-huge number of 774,651 people using a single pirated license is a real world example of how piracy is a huge problem. Something needs to be done about it, but we can’t end up living in Orwell’s 1984, so is there any real solution other than the one Avast used here?

Source: PC Pro

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