Kevin Frank thought he had scored a great deal on eBay--Abobe ImageStyler software for just $103. What Kevin actually got, however, came as a shock. Instead of receiving an original version of the software, he ended up with a cheap copy: a CD-recordable (CD-R) disc containing ImageStyler and eight other programs.
Other than a photocopied sheet containing serial numbers for the programs, there was no documentation, and there certainly wasn't a registration card. Kevin had inadvertently purchased "pirated" software.
He isn't alone. Illegal, pirated software abounds on the auction sites. After all, it's cheap to produce and easy to churn out copies--a $300 CD recorder is all it takes to burn duplicates of expensive copyrighted software. Adobe claims its investigations have found that "the vast majority of software sold on these [auction] sites is pirated." (Moreover, several software companies, such as Microsoft, have joined eBay's controversial Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program to combat the problem, which has led some sellers to cry foul.) Although I agree that there's a lot of pirated software out there, I think "vast majority" is going overboard.
Still, would-be software buyers need to be wary, lest they end up spending hundreds of dollars for a copy that isn't worth the media it's burned on. First and foremost, read the auction description carefully. If the description isn't adequate or seems vague, email the seller for clarification. Are all the accompanying materials, such as license agreement, manuals, box, and certificate of authenticity, included? How about a sales receipt or registration card? Did the seller include a picture of the lot (and not just a marketing shot from a company's Web site)? These aren't all must-haves, but their presence does lend credibility to a software auction.
Other software auction red flags include the following:
Most sellers of pirated software aren't up front about it. But they might leave clues--little weasel phrases--indicating the software they're selling isn't the real thing. Words like "backup" and "archive" could be tip-offs. Dutch auctions can raise eyebrows, too. Although it's certainly possible someone has 50 legitimate copies of Microsoft Office to unload, it's also possible they stayed up last night burning 50 copies of one disk.
Lastly, before bidding on any auction, but especially software auctions, check the feedback others have left about the seller. Don't just note the negatives or positives given. Go ahead and read the actual feedback postings. If the seller doesn't have a proven track record, you might want to look elsewhere.