Why Software Piracy Isn't Theft

In an earlier article of mine on the dependance of Windows on Piracy, I promised a discussion on whether or not software piracy should be considered as theft. Well, here we are, and I would like to demonstrate how piracy is not theft.

To start of with, let us define theft. The commonly accepted definition is “the taking of someone else’s property without their consent“. The two keywords that need to be looked at here are “taking” and “consent”. I am going to demonstrate in various different ways why software piracy does not come into the same category as theft. My first argument is with the word “take”.

First of all, the word “taken,” as it was originally used, was meant to imply that what you take is no longer there with the owner. In fact, the root of the word piracy itself betrays what it is supposed to mean. Pirates stormed ships forcibly, looted the occupants (not to mention murdered and God knows what else), and took away things that left the original owners without them.

This clearly doesn’t apply to piracy of music CD’s and software. If I download a song from a server, then the original copy is intact and nothing has been lost. To put a different spin on it, if I light a candle, and you (without my consent) light another candle from my flame and run away, can I charge you with having stolen my light? Is that piracy? I don’t think so.

Of course, all software companies and music companies have the right to make it as difficult as possible for people to copy and run their software. Which brings me to my second point as to why I don’t consider piracy as theft.


Image Credit: decoder72

I quite understand the meaning of the term opportunity cost. The primary gripe with piracy is that it causes lost sales. This assumption is dubious at best or remarkably overstated. For this argument to ring true, the assumption must be made that if a user illegaly downloads a song, he or she would have purchased it. If the user never intended to purchase the song, then downloading the song illegally has not caused any sort of lost sales.

In fact, this is much more often true than not. The overwhelming majority of people who illegally download software would never have bought it if they were unable to get if for free. So this argument falls flat.

My final argument is an extension of my earlier article on how to charge different prices for your products. Companies usually adopt pricing policies that confer an additional benefit to those who pay high prices. For example, business class passengers in airplanes have shorter lines. Conversely, they make it difficult for customers who are price sensitive and want to save money to ensure that only those who are willing to make some sort of a sacrifice can get the lower priced products. The example is that of discount coupons which force customers to go through all the hassle of cutting out and saving useless bits of paper in order to get a discount.

Piracy can be looked at in this light. It is never easy to download something illegally. You have to find a source, try and crack it, are in constant fear that updates will change something and render the software useless, etc. This is the reason why people pay money for software. They do it to avoid hassles. The very fact that people choose to buy software instead of trying to get it for free demonstrates this. The end result is this: People who would never have bought the software anyway are the ones who usually try and download music and software illegally. The others buy it to avoid the hassles of using non-genuine software.

The fact that people are still buying music and paying for software illustrates this principle. They pay for software even though they can get it for free. As long as companies make it as difficult as possible for their software to be copied illegally (it doesn’t have to be impossible), they will not lose sales since those to whom the software is worth the price will purchase it.

A lot of people of course, have different points of view on this, believe that you should go to an online store and purchase software, and they are most welcome to share with our readers why they feel that piracy is theft or provide further reasons as to why it is not.

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