If you look at software piracy and the reports on it released by the BSA and the SPA, some thoughts inevitably pop up.
One of the most used arguments used against software piracy is the loss of possible revenues, and argument which is also widely spread by organizations against software piracy. However, would the pirate really have bought the software in the first place if he wouldn't have been able to pirate it? And: Would he have bought the product of the very company and not the one of the concurrence? And wouldn't he have used free software instead? As long as you can't outlaw free software, you can't claim your revenues are lowered by piracy since this would be claiming free software is on the same level as piracy. This is ridiculous.
Both, free and pirated software, will have a negative impact on your sales.
Theft is when you miss something thereafter. However, software can be copied at a price close to zero, and moreover is copyable with no loss of quality. Since you actually don't loose your product, this cannot be viewed as "theft". It could be seen as "unlawful copying", but not as theft. It's an entirely new kind of crime. I will therefore refer to it as "piracy" (however this isn't really correct neither, but "piracy" has a wider meaning).
Piracy does not withdraw you of the ability to use your software.
Now this is a very nice one. Most software is not sold, but licensed to a certain user. Now all that could happen is that you could be prosecuted for a "violation of license-agreement". If a pirate has not bought the product in the first place, he isn't bound to that license.. This is an awful dilemma. Maybe the industry should go away from "licensing" software altogether and instead sell "copies". These copies would be yours and you could do with them whatever you wanted, including modify it at the bytelevel and sell them, except copy them for someone else's use. This would probably be a more fair system, however it could result in lower revenues when people suddenly may buy "used software".
How do you justify your licenses?
Some companies use more or less sophisticated methods of protecting their software through software and/or hardware means. Why do that if it would not be allowed to copy the software in the first place? And what are you going to do about reverse-engineering? Outlaw it, as some gratefully ignorant companies would like to have it? The point here is that copying the software should be the crime, nor violation of license and neither reverse engineering. But as stated above, this probably needs a whole new law which prohibits "unauthorized copying" but which would also render the licenses obsolete. The most hassles of copy-protection experience the legitimate users and not the pirates. In fact, it is well known that people use pirated versions of software, though they have licenses, just to get rid of the copy-protection.
copy-protection is a series of measures for software to prevent incompetent pirates from pirating and legitimate users from using the software.
Going further in comparing free to pirated software, one realizes that pirated software has a positive influence on the training of Users. People who work with free software probably like to use this at work too, but people who pirate software will get used to your software, they will know how to handle it, and possibly the company at which these people are employed will have to use the same software. A company can't afford to use pirated software and thus the company will buy it. The company buying your software which was previously pirated by its employees will have the add-on benefit of not having to train these.
Pirated software will train users on your software for free.
The last words in this issue haven't been said yet. I don't think this will change soon, since lawyers are making good profit from it, and software-companies make good profit from licensing instead of selling. I hope this hypocritical behaviour changes for the good. I'm not advocating software-piracy, I'm a dedicated user and advocate of free software, and I think this is the way to go, and this is the way that will show that the "licensing"-business is obsolete and wasn't a good idea in the first place. What I wanted to show with this, is how perverse the whole issue really is, noteably the behaviour of companies which fight software piracy on one side and benefit from it on the other side.
Peter Keel, 07.11.1998