Is Piracy Good?

We’ve seen quite about enough news on software pirates being tried. If it’s not a 10-year-old kid being sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), it’s lawsuits against the developers of P2P networks and Web sites.

Although I buy all my software, or just use freeware, I don’t think you can completely stop people from pirating software-considering that many software products cost more than the average PC today! There will always be two types of software programmers: the creators and the crackers! There will also always be two types of end-users: the haves and the have-nots, or more appropriately, the will-nots. Rather than get into the undecidable ethical debate about “to crack or not to crack,” let’s stick to software piracy and the effects it has on the industry.

It’s Easy, It’s Fun, It’s Illegal!
Most of us in India have a lot of pirated software on our computers, and part of the reason is that we really cannot afford to pay for even software that’s cheap by American standards-$10 is Rs 450! Obtaining working software has become the simplest thing on earth-just go to a download site such as, download the software, and then hit Google or Yahoo! Search, looking for a crack.

You’ll almost always find what you’re looking for (you know what I mean…) in a flash; download the crack, and you instantly become one of the millions of software “pirates” across the globe. A lot of us don’t even know it’s wrong!

Take for example of the e-mails I get every day: at least two of them per day are from readers asking me to provide them with a serial key or download link to a “patch” for some well-known software or the other! When I politely reply to these people informing them that this is against the law, and if they really like the software that much -if it is that useful to them-then perhaps they should consider buying it, here’s a taste of what I get as responses…

“… my system assembler can give it to me for free, but he is out of town so I asked you…”

“It’s illegal? But my friend has it… it came with his computer; and his computer itself costs less than that software… if he didn’t pay why should I?”

“Do you seriously expect me to believe that you do not pirate yourself?”

“Never mind, I found the key myself… thanks for nothing!

You’re Breaking The Law
It’s important to realise that by downloading a crack for a software, or using someone else’s licence key to unlock a software, is illegal. Laws across the globe vary, but generally, the punishment could be a hefty fine and/or jail time.

Oh Shush, You Little **** Activist! Piracy is Good
That is what was said to me when I recently chided a female friend who called me to ask for a “free” version of a very popular (and expensive) image editing software! The verbal abuse did not ruffle me-I’m used to that-but her statement, “Piracy is good,” left me speechless.

A lot of muttering and stammering and hurled abuses later, things calmed down a bit and I got down to asking her how exactly piracy was good, and for whom.

“Not unless you buy me coffee and get me that software,” she teased. Long story short, I took her out for coffee, but made sure she got someone else to do her piracy work.

Here’s what transpired:
Me: So how can piracy be good? Good for you, yes, but not good for the poor developer or for our economy!

She: Nope. Piracy is good for the software developers themselves. I mean, it’s also good for me, but it’s a lot more beneficial to the big software companies.

Me: Oh really, how? Do you KNOW how many billions of US dollars of profit they lose because of piracy? It’s like 5 billion a year or something! (That was a complete shot in the dark!)

She: Sure, but how many billions more do they make with sales?

Me: Oh, that’s not a valid argument; it’s like saying that since 3 lakh Indians pay tax, why should the government want tax from the rest of the population?
She: No, taxes are different. You have to pay them, but when it comes to software, I don’t have to use it; I could choose to be like you and not use paid software at all!

Me: So why don’t you?
She: Because I’m keeping the balance of good and evil in the world! What do you think, dummy? It’s because there are popular software that are easy to use and the not-so-popular freeware that are a lot harder to get used to! I like to keep it simple.

Me: So piracy is justified for you because you’re lazy?
She: No. Piracy is justified for me because I want to use the same software at home as I do at work. My company will not buy me a copy for home, so I pirate it!

Me: Wha… huh… umm… that’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard! Why can’t you just use logic and listen to what you’re saying!
She: What I’m saying is logical. You just cannot grasp my logic. Perhaps you should buy us a couple of coffees more and I will waste another half hour of my time trying to put this in baby talk.

Me: (Mumbled) ****####*******
She: Now get the coffee or I’m going back to my office!

Me: *sigh*
10 minutes later…

She: (slurps another free coffee and continues) Ok look; can you tell me why software companies have not made un-crackable software products till date?

Me: Because they can’t, but they will probably be able to do so soon enough!
She: Wrong! They haven’t because they just do not want to! Do you seriously believe that they couldn’t, at the least, make it a lot harder to crack software? I mean, how come a crack or patch is available in a week from when the software is released? There has to be more than just a simple “they cannot” answer to this.

Me: No, it’s because software is made by humans and thus it is crackable by humans!
She: Oh come on, don’t be so naïve. Look at the bigger picture!

Me: There’s a bigger picture? I thought software vendors losing billions of dollars was the bigger picture!
She: Fine! Let me use an example to make you understand!

Me: Oh this ought to be good…
She: Shush! Ok, let’s say Microsoft makes a Windows version that is un-crackable. Let’s say it’s Vista for this example. What happens then?

Me: Everyone buys Vista?
She: Nope, a lot of people start using Linux! Lindows, SuSE, Ubuntu, you choose.

Me: It’s Linspire!
She: Oh whatever, correct all the little mistakes if you wish, but that’s the truth! Seriously, consider how so many people today have at least tried a Linux distro-live or dead! Don’t you think they’d either just stick to using a pirated version of Windows XP, or just use a newer Linux distro?

Me: Umm… maybe. But we’re talking majority here, not the minorities.
She: Minority? Why do you think so lowly of us? I’m no techie, but even I’ve installed Ubuntu and tried it out. Sure, some things I just could not fathom, but for my kind of work it really made no difference what OS I was running! I found to be just as simple to type out reports in as Microsoft Office!
Me: True, I use it too.

She: See!

Me: No, I don’t see!
She: Typical! Why can’t you use your imagination a bit? Think of what would happen if I started using GPL software only at home… Take your own example… don’t you use the same software at office as you do at home?

Me: Err… yeah, so?
She: Well, now imagine the whole world doing that! We’d have open source software being used at home and at work-after all, companies would love to save money on software, wouldn’t they? 

Me: OK! So a lot of people start using open source software. How’s that bad?
She: It is if you’re a “paid” software developer!

Me: Ouch!
She: Aha, hallelujah, hallelujah! Let there be light, God proclaimed, and took a coffee break to rest her tired self.

Me:Her? Oh never mind! (*pout*)
She: Aww, the pwwoohh baby lost an argument!

Me: (muttered bad words)
She: OK! I’m going back to office. Let’s do this again sometime!

Me: (mutter) Let’s not!
That was the last time I was going to argue with a stock market analyst!

As I dejectedly stomped my way back to my office, the logic she had used to reach her conclusion started to sink in. It’s not like I believe her and will now start pirating software, but I do think she has a point. I know that despite losing the debate, software piracy is still bad, and against the law, but I cannot help but wonder how beneficial it’s been to big software development companies. Sure the smaller guys stand to lose everything because of piracy, but then again, since when have smaller companies not risked everything?

Though I haven’t found the answer-and I doubt anyone will ever have concrete evidence to ever prove it either way-I now have a possible answer to the question, “Is piracy good?”  

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