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Software Piracy - Our Experience

When we started this company in 1994 we knew we had a good idea. We expected to be imitated, but this hasn’t happened all that much. We have however been pirated quite extensively. Person or persons unknown have passed off our work as variously, “Public Domain”, (it isn’t), “GNU Public Licence”, (also wrong), “Open Source”, (meaningless in this context), or worse, as their own property.

There is a community of sellers on eBay who collect materials that they believe to be in the public domain and sell them on for profit. Some of these do so in good faith, really believing to software to be free. Others don't.

eBay, to their credit, have no interest in promoting software piracy and have a team dedicated to helping genuine intellectual property owners protect their work. It is called the Verified Rights Owners programme, (VeRO), and you can see our VeRO page here 

With eBay’s help we have been able to shut down the listings of several such sellers, but not before hundreds of counterfeit copies got into the wild.

UK copyright law is very clear about the ownership of artistic works such as we provide. While the idea for a particular symbol, design or label can be used by anybody, our drawing of that symbol is our property, and ours alone. We licence our work to customers on terms described in the Rivington Designs software licence, in return for a fee.

Most, (probably nearly all), of the people who bought our software off eBay did so innocently and in good faith. The seller may have assured them that the software was public domain or whatever, and they paid over some money. Sadly, the software is still an unlawful copy, and they must act without delay to legitimise their situation. The position is analogous to buying goods which turn out to be stolen. The original owner still has title.

How to spot a genuine Rivington Designs product:

Rivington Designs software will always come in branded packaging with a user manual, on a clearly identified and serial numbered CD. We always provide a full VAT invoice. We do not sell on eBay, we never provide bare discs, we do not sell downloads. The root directory of the CD will have the Rivington Designs End User Licence in a file called Licence.txt or RD-LIC2.txt. We have a record of every customer we have ever sold to.

How to spot a counterfeit product

Ignore what it says on the label, (if it has one). If your disc has a subdirectory called “MSDSicons” and the designs in it look like this, it is almost certainly ours. The idea of illustrating risk phrases in this way has never been imitated.

Example of a MSDS icon Example of a MSDS icon

Look in the directory containing Mandatory signs. If contains these symbols, again these are our original work, and up to now has not been imitated.

In practice, counterfeiters put little or no effort into disguising the product. They tend to retain our file name conventions, (colour images end in a dollar sign, greyscale in an exclamation mark), and our directory structure. If you’re not sure, call us.

Example of an original design -Air fed mask signExample of an original design - Laced Boot Sign

How do WE spot a counterfeit:

Two ways. If we have an actual file to look at this is easy. Though the finished images may look simple, the method we use to create our drawings and make sure they are compatible with all types of software, hardware and operating systems is unique and distinctive. Even if an image has been cropped, stretched, rotated re-sized or otherwise distorted, if it is one of ours we will be able to prove it.

If we just see an image somewhere, maybe on a document, a website, notice, poster or MSDS we can spot our work by the presence of artistic features unique to ourselves. When you’ve had as many meetings as we have to discuss, for example, the shape of an eyebrow, or how many teeth a skull should have, you know your work pretty well.

If you have a counterfeit copy, what should you do?

You can do one or more of the following:

You can destroy the product completely. Shred the disc it came on, erase any of the images you may have on hard drives or network servers or anywhere else, and destroy all the paper and electronic copies of ANY DOCUMENT, MANUAL, POSTER, SIGN, MSDS or any other thing that shows any of our images. Sorry, but these break our copyright too.


You can buy a licence. You still need to destroy the counterfeit disc, but your software will then be lawful. Other advantages to buying a licence are our product support and, (if you want), notification of when updated versions become available. We have found that most pirated copies are our Safety Officer’s Combo pack, Version 8 and sometimes 9. We are on Version 13 now, so you should think about upgrading anyway.

You can, of course carry on and hope you don’t get caught. If this is you, you need to think about why you’re in the compliance business at all.

What do we do when we spot a copyright infringement?

The first move is to try to establish from our own records whether the potential offender has a valid licence. Our products are only available from us. We don’t sell through any other dealer, and we have a record of every copy we have ever sold.

If we can’t establish that the product is being used lawfully, we get our legal people to write to the suspected infringing person or organisation. This means the managing director, chief executive, or senior executive officer, explaining the infringement and his, (yes his), liability to prosecution. MDs and Chief Execs. are never very pleased to get this letter. What he does then varies with the individual, as does our response. What would yours do? This sounds tough, but it is what we are legally required to do.

This kind of thing is not what we would wish for in a relationship with customers, but software fraud has now caused us considerable loss and we can not let it continue. We intend to pursue copyright infringement by any means we can.

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