The software big boys like Microsoft Corp. have long waged war on software pirates, but a fledgling organization in Calgary is looking out for the little guys.

Mike Fullerton, president of software company CyberMatrix Corp. has founded the Trialware Professional Association (TPA) in an effort to shut down illegal sites offering software cracks, keygens and warez. The practice of cracking software is almost as old as software development itself. Sites posting jury-rigged software registration codes (or keygens) and unlocked demonstration or trial software are legion.

Fullerton said he recognizes it’s going to be an uphill battle, but he’s had some early successes. To date, 109 members have signed up. “We’ve shut down several smaller sites. A lot of these sites are posted on free Web pages, like Geocities, and they’re extremely easy to shut down. You just contact Geocities and they’ll just shut them down right away,” he said.

Calgary developer Replicon Inc. hasn’t encountered problems with its software being cracked, but Peter Koizumi, marketing and web analyst for the firm, said it can potentially be devastating. “It really hits a smaller company a lot harder, especially a smaller Canadian company,” he said. “It’s something we do keep an eye out on. We check out cracked sites and so on occasionally to make sure that there’s nothing out there.”

But cracked sites spread across the Web like a virus – shut one down and three will replace it. “I haven’t seen a realistic way to shut them down on a massive scale,” said Steve Pavlina, president of the Association of Shareware Professionals, based in Canoga Park, Calif. ISPs, he said, may shut down the cracked sites they are inadvertently hosting, but sites can easily be re-posted elsewhere. “They’re down, but they can get the site back up within five minutes, so what’s the disincentive? Another thing is, there’s really no punishment for putting up cracked sites.”

It’s even harder to police sites outside North America. “In Russia, cracked sites are very common and it’s virtually impossible to shut them down,” noted Pavlina.

The way many software developers deal with the problem is to shield their applications at the source. Pavlina is also the CEO of Dexterity Software. He cut crackers out of the loop by not giving them a chance to crack in the first place. “I eventually just stopped using registration codes. I mean, you can’t crack software that doesn’t use registration codes.” But, he admitted, “it’s harder to do if you sell your application using more common methods like having a 30-day trial.”

Fullerton is well aware that the task ahead of him is large in scope, but he’s undeterred. “It’s just something you’ve got to do one day at a time,” he said. “Sometimes it seems quite overwhelming, but you’ve just got to keep at it. Eventually maybe these people will maybe start to realize it’s going to be harder.”

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