You Wouldn't Steal a Car - Pt. 1

One of the most fervently discussed topics in the creative technologies sector is that of piracy. Software piracy has existed since the days of punch cards and floppy disks, and it was even once possible to have an illegal copy of a game cartridge by recording a series of dots and beeps from pirate radios onto a cassette tape, which would then be played like any other software. However, in this modern era the ease in which one can pirate a piece of software, game or media has increased dramatically. Perhaps it is this accessibility of illegal copies that has led to the lax attitude towards piracy that we commonly see today. Our creative industries have evolved to accept piracy, and this has been a great thing.

Graham Linehan, writer of The IT Crowd made an amazing parody of the anti-piracy ads typically littering DVDs, in which it compares killing a policeman to downloading movies and other absurd claims. This may sound extreme, but the underlying message is a logical one; piracy and theft are not comparable. The point that is constantly pushed forward as a counter against piracy is the idea that the pirate is personally taking from the original creator, but it is simple to explain why this is simply not true. Let's have a look at an example.

Scenario 1

  • Developer company makes piece of software and puts it on the market for £300. Anonymous downloads said software from an illegal source.
  • Developing company has original software and copies of software. Anonymous has copies of software.

Scenario 2

  • Developer company makes piece of software and puts it on the market for £300. Anonymous wants software, but feels the price is unwarranted/cannot afford (for example). Does not download.
  • Developing company has original software and copies of software. Anonymous has nothing.

You can see that in both scenarios the original developer has exactly the same assets. Digital media is, by definition, not comparable to physical objects and acts.

It is, however, hard to deny the fact that, in Scenario 1, Anonymous has a copy of the software without having paid for it. Does this mean that the developer is out of pocket? Let's look at another scenario.

Scenario 3

  • Developing company makes piece of software and puts it on the market for £300. Anonymous wants software, and shells out.
  • Developing company has original software and copies of software. Anonymous has license to use software.

So now the developer has their money. In the grand scale of things this £300 may not have been a large portion of their profit but numbers do add up. However, let's look at what Anonymous is left with: a software license. This means that they have the right to use this piece of software in the matter determined by the developer. Any other usage is against the agreement, and therefore illegal. If Anonymous wanted a version with freedom of usage then they would likely have to illegally download one. And then we're back to stage one. If the 'free' version is better, people will go against their morals.

In the next part of this series on piracy, I will talk about some of the positive effects that piracy has had in the creative industries.