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Why Software Piracy Isn’t Theft
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1:20 am
May 25, 2009

Bhagwad Jal Park

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posts 2

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, 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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2:22 am
May 25, 2009


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This is a statement from a good friend of mine who is a publisher, it semi-relates to piracy and he's a sharp guy so I thought I'd share it. Please excuse the plugs towards the end.

A Publisher Defends Pirate Bay

10:44 pm
May 26, 2009



All you've proven to me is that the legal definition of theft is as outdated as the salty sea dogs you used to justify getting something of mine against my wishes.

First of all, if you do not intend to buy my track/book/movie then you have absolutely no business downloading it!  As the creator of that work I've decided *not* to offer it on a “try before you buy” basis because that's my right.  There are reviews out there – read them and then make an informed choice as to whether you wish to pay for my efforts prior to enjoying them.  If you decide that you *don't* want to take that chance then fine, I'll live without your money, but you damn well better live without my product.  The same applies if I decide not to sell my work into your territory/country.  If I decide not to sell to you that does not give you the legal right to just go ahead and take it.

Now, to go back to your candle analogy.  Assume I have a lit candle and I see that you want to light yours.  Now assume that I wanted to charge you for the light because I'm a heartless asshole and I think I can make a buck out of this deal.  In that case, yes, if you “stole” a light and ran away with it I would call you a thief.  Then I would laugh as your candle went out because you didn't hold your hand over the flame while you ran.  Does that make me a bastard?  You bet it does.  Welcome to the law of supply and demand – see what your customer needs and sell it to him.

I barely even know where to start with your premise that people who pay for software only do so because they're essentially too lazy/stupid/frightened to steal it.  That just beggars belief!

5:19 am
September 17, 2009



Thank you for the well thought out opinion.  I feel that these are opinions on the piracy issue that I've heard before, however, and as someone whose living depends on intellectual property and is absolutely being compromised by piracy, let me refute some of your points.

First, the point about the removal of goods vs. copying is well taken, but it is a flawed argument as there are many examples where a valid example of “theft” involves not taking or removing goods but rather duplicating them.  One is identity theft.  Yes you could say that the theft actually occurs when the theif begins to purchase goods using the person's credit, in which case they would be stealing that credit which is still a finite item.  But suppose the identity theif doesn't make purchases?  Suppose they only use that *duplicated* identity to wreak havoc in their life, perhaps committing a crime and implicating that person?  Have they stolen anything that person owned?  Yes obviously they've stolen that person's identity which is a very tangible thing.  But have they removed that identity or merely duplicated?  By this continued logic, society should not find criminal anyone who walks into a bank, demands thousands of dollars, but pays it back in timely fashion perhaps by installments that are convenient for this person.  Do you have the right to borrow, without his/her permission, your neighbors car to go take your kids to school, so long as you return it before your neighbor wakes up and needs it to get to work?  Or if an item must truly be duplicated and not temporarily borrowed to apply to your argument, then consider this:  should I not be able to plagarize an entire book word for word, and seek to have my own copy published, since I am stealing nothing?  Your argument, unfortunately, demands that any material can be duplicated and used as the duplicator sees fit, even if doing so causes personal or monetary harm to the original owner.

Second, your argument about “limited effect” on revenues derived from that intellectual property is entirely besides the point.  Would I be any less guilty if I went into a grocery store, opened a cash register, and took $10 instead of taking $5000?  Theft is theft, whether you take my entire savings or go into my pocket for a quarter.  If one single person downloads a program from the Pirate Bay who would've bought it and a thousand others do so who won't, the person who ripped or provided that file is still liable for a theft.  A little doesn't make it right.

Actually, on that, I think you've actually argued my point for me.  You stated that piracy is never easy, and [in your words] THIS is the reason most people buy from legitimate sources.  Think about that.  First you state that most piraters would never have bought anyways, then you state that most people who do buy legitimately do so because it's easier.  In that logic, people who could afford to buy the program–and would–will begin in greater numbers to pirate the software should doing so become easier and less risky.  This invalidates your argument about piraters generally being non-customers anyhow.

Now, about value and being willing to 'pay what something is worth'.  Is not value a matter of supply and demand?  If pirated copies of a software are everywhere, doesn't that make the legitimate copies less valuable?  The company is forced to lower pricing as a way to try and win over many customers who are on the fence deciding “is it worth this much or should I just get it pirated” and hoping that by lowering prices the customer will decide paying is acceptable.

On a personal note, I work within a software company and I have a wide range of people who've told me they acquired our software through pirated means.  Some are teenagers and young people, who I think fit more into your argument and whom I blame far less.  Many were also businesspeople and travelers who acquired copies overseas, sometimes while physically in the country.  Indirectly, I deal with customers every day who want to know why they should buy legitimately from us when pirated copies are being sold for less on sites like eBay.  At that point it becomes not a matter of “acquiring something from piracy they would never otherwise buy” but instead that is allowing a new form of competition from people who've stolen our product for profit.

I've heard your arguments many times and it always strikes me as justification.  But that justification lasts only until you yourself have experienced harm.  Go and publish a book–I'm sure if you found out a year later your exact book was starting to appear with someone else's name printed on the cover, you'd be singing a different tune.

5:32 am
September 17, 2009



In response to the publisher, who I beleive is on the right track, the Internet is and certainly should be a place where people can choose to provide their knowledge, share their thoughts, or even make their own writing available for others to read.

Where that does NOT apply is when the person who's written the work does not WANT it to be there online.  You choose to allow it to happen and applaud it being shared.  But that gives you no say or even opinion over what another author chooses to do with their work.  You must respect that author's rights and that right is for them to maintain personal possession and all rights over their material until they decide to make it public, as you've done with yours.

One of the most basic tenents of society is that law is created to protect groups even as small as one individual.  As soon as one individual is harmed by piracy–keep in mind, they can consider themselves to be harmed if even one sale is lost, although you yourself may not feel slighted by such a loss that is up to that person to decide–then a law has been broken.  Therefore until such time as no one feels grievanced by the loss of intellectual property to piracy, then the decision to make materials available online and public rests solely with the OWNER of that material and no one else.

And that being the case, we all have a responsibility to society to uphold and protect those people's rights, even if you those are rights you yourself choose to relinquish.

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