Pirated software is software which has been duplicated and distributed without authorization. A number of activities could be considered software piracy, with the classic example being someone who makes multiple copies of a program and sells the copies. Piracy of software is generally prosecuted under copyright infringement laws, under the argument that piracy infringes upon the copyrights held by the developer of the software.
Since the 1700s, people have been referring to instances of copyright infringement as piracy, and with the advent of the computer age, piracy began to explode because it became easy to do, and potentially highly lucrative. Software pirates can make a great deal of money by purchasing a single legitimate copy of a piece of software, copying it, and selling it. People may make a conscious choice to buy pirated software, or they may be fooled into buying illegally copied software by savvy pirates who take care to package their products believably.
If software is copied and given away, some people do not consider it piracy, but simple copyright infringement. This activity is still illegal, but it does not provide monetary benefits for the person doing the copying and distribution. The line blurs even further when people do things like installing a piece of software on multiple computers when the software license only allows one copy to be installed, or when people make backups of software for personal use.
From the point of view of software companies, unauthorized copying and distribution, whether copyright infringement or outright piracy, is harmful because it deprives them of profits. It can also damage their reputations, as pirated software may be faulty or loaded with malware, in which case users may express anger with the product and the company. Piracy is also an issue because it can threaten the safety of computer users, since pirated software products may be used to harvest personal information, load a computer with viruses, or engage in other activities which will hurt the user.
A number of types of software are pirated, ranging from games to office productivity software. Operating systems are also popular targets for piracy. Some people may engage in piracy unwittingly, as in the case of an office which installs more copies of an operating system or program than it has licenses for. Penalties for possessing and selling pirated software vary, with colleges and schools in particular cracking down on piracy to address safety concerns and complaints from producers of software.