Software piracy is any unauthorized use and/or distribution of software. This includes anything from music, movies, and video games, to document software such as Microsoft Office, Adobe, and imaging programs. Something as innocent as installing a program on more than one computer, if the copy was intended for only one computer, can constitute piracy. Peer sharing networks are extremely common on the Internet, and they make sharing files very simple. However, even providing unauthorized files that are copied by others is piracy. Software piracy usually results in a huge loss of profits for the original owners of the material, so there are harsh civil and criminal penalties for piracy involving fines and prison time.
The owner of copyrighted software may sue the infringer in a civil case or charge the violator with a criminal offense. Since the piracy of copyrighted software leads to huge monetary losses, a civil lawsuit usually requires that the infringer pay for all losses resulting from the distribution and/or illegal copying of the software and any profits the violator made from it.
In the United States, the maximum civil penalty is $150,000 per infringement in a lawsuit for a copyright violation. This means that for every single program or work that was illegally copied and/or distributed, the infringer could have to pay $150,000. As you can imagine, a civil suit may cost a violator millions of dollars.
On the other hand, piracy of software can be seen as a criminal act akin to stealing. In this case, the infringer can be charged with a criminal offense. In the United States, the maximum criminal penalty for copyright infringement is a fine of up to $250,000 and a jail sentence of up to five years. This involves damages that are both monetary and psychological. A prison record can seriously mar the life of any individual.