On behalf of software companies Adobe Systems, Macromedia and Alias/Wavefront, the trade group sued two individuals Thursday, accusing them of selling illegally copied software titles such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe Photoshop. The civil lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court, mark the first time the trade group has pursued legal action against individuals it accuses of selling pirated goods through online auctions.
The SIIA plans to file more lawsuits within the next week, said Peter Beruk, the organization's vice president of anti-piracy programs.
"This puts a shot across the bow to pirates that we are not going to sit back and watch you do this," Beruk said.
Last year, an SIIA study indicated that about 90 percent of the software auctions on sites such as eBay, Yahoo and Amazon.com were offering illegal software. That marked a big increase from a 1999 survey by the group. In the previous survey, the SIIA found that 60 percent of software auctions were offering illegal software.
Also Thursday, the SIIA issued a study that found that as auction sites have cracked down on illegal software auctions, people have begun using more sophisticated methods to reach potential buyers. eBay, for instance, has banned sellers from offering "backup" copies of software and software on CD-R (compact disc recordable) discs, making it more difficult for sellers to auction off pirated titles, the group reported.
But sellers on eBay have begun to contact bidders directly, using their user names and e-mail addresses published by the auction site, the SIIA reported. And some sellers who sell multiple illegal copies of the same program have begun to list each one under a different user name to avoid detection, the group said.
The SIIA finally decided to sue individuals because the problem has "gotten out of hand," Beruk said.
eBay did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
The SIIA has previously taken legal action, such as filing lawsuits and sending cease-and-desist letters to protect copyrights, Beruk said. But the previous actions were taken against people who installed one copy of software on multiple computers or who were offering illegal copies of software on their own Web sites.
"Frankly, it's high time that we do more, that the Justice Department does more through the FBI, and that Internet providers do more," he said.
Last year, Sega, Nintendo and Electronic Arts filed suit against Yahoo, charging that Yahoo permitted its consumers to sell illicit copies of video games and illegal devices used to copy video games.
Generally, online auction houses such as eBay and Yahoo ban the sale of pirated software.
But the efforts of auction sites to crack down on sales of pirated software have not always gone over well. Last year, several eBay sellers criticized Microsoft and eBay, accusing them of quashing legitimate auctions in their anti-piracy efforts.
In the lawsuits filed Thursday, the SIIA sued Michael Chu of Los Altos Hills, Calif., and Julian Kish of Chicago, accusing them of selling thousands of dollars worth of copied software titles for fractions of their retail price. eBay members who had bid on the software told the SIIA that Chu and Kish contacted them directly, offering to sell the allegedly copied software, Beruk said. Following the tip, the SIIA contacted Chu and Kish directly and purchased illegal software from them, the suit alleges.