The Y2 K Bug's Other Victims

Users of pirated programs can't count on getting help

It's just what they deserve. The newest victims of the Year 2000 bug are millions of users of pirated software, who for obvious reasons can't turn to a software publisher to send them an updated program that's inoculated against the Y2K bug.

Some 40% of business applications worldwide were pirated in 1997, according to a study by the Business Software Alliance and the Software & Information Industry Assn. (SIIA). And while no one is crying crocodile tears for these software pirates, their Y2K bugs could end up causing headaches for anyone doing business with them.

TAINTED BOOTY. Worse, huge swaths of the world economy could be affected. In emerging economies, piracy is practically the norm: The SIIA estimates that in Eastern Europe, 77% of software in use was illegally obtained. In Asia, the estimate is 52%.

The pirate booty includes "mission-critical" applications and bootlegged copies of operating systems, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT. "All you have to do is copy it," says Samir Bodas, Microsoft's worldwide director for antipiracy.

Fixing this pirated software could just be too expensive for many small outfits and emerging economies. "Often, these are companies that live payroll-to-payroll, and spending $10,000 or $20,000 to fix Y2K problems can be impossible," says Pat Riley, senior vice-president at Millennia III, a Y2K-compliance company in Westport, Conn.

So how to help these lawbreakers so their problems don't cause Y2K havoc? One large publisher, Attachmate Corp., is considering offering a low-cost Y2K amnesty program. But most software makers aren't in a coddling mood. Jokes Yoav Etiel, senior marketing vice-president for Bentley Systems: "It's like someone who steals your car and calls you to come fix a flat tire."

In the end, it could be just enough to turn these pirates legit. But as Bob Kruger, enforcement vice-president for the Business Software Alliance, concedes: "If you can get new releases in pirated form, you can get Y2K-compliant software in pirated form." Unfortunately, no one may be able to test that thesis until Jan. 1.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.