When people think of software pirates, they usually envision college kids downloading games off BitTorrent, or adults getting too-good-to-be-true bargains off eBay, or street stalls lined with DVDs in Third World cities.
The real pirate scene, however, is much larger, hidden, and yet in plain sight, say experts.
And despite the best efforts of Microsoft and anti-piracy vendors, no one has developed a 100% invulnerable copy protection scheme.
"There is always a way to crack something. Mechanisms can always be defeated," said John Frame, senior director of product management for Acresso Software, the longtime anti-piracy vendor formerly known as Macrovision.
The economic downturn could presage an upswing in piracy next year, despite ongoing legal campaigns by the Business Software Alliance, Microsoft and others.
"We've seen an increase in piracy during past recessions," said Victor DeMarines, vice president at anti-piracy software vendor, V.i. Laboratories. "It's very cyclical."
DeMarines recently gave this reporter a brief tour of parts of the software piracy scene that most Internet users don't get to see.
When piracy first started in America a quarter-century ago, it was mostly teenagers " on their Apple II+s cracking and trading warez via dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) for thrills and bragging rights.
According to DeMarines, the culture of piracy hasn't changed much over the past 25 years, even if the technology is different.
Pirates "still want to be the first to get their software released and pushed into the top sites," he said. Pirates will host the cracked software themselves or sell it to someone else. The software then gets cataloged by a warez site, such as 0DayKingz. Pronounced "Zero-Day-Kings," the name refers to software that is cracked and made available on the day it is released.
0DayKingz doesn't host any of the software, just the links to them. "All releases are listed here for informative purposes," its FAQ states.