January 5, 2004
@ 08:22 AM

Nick Bradbury recently posted an entry entitled On Piracy which read

Many people who use pirated products justify it by claiming they're only stealing from rich mega-corporations that screw their customers, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that the people who are hurt the most by piracy are people like me.

Shareware developers are losing enormous amounts of money to piracy, and we're mostly helpless to do anything about it. We can't afford to sue everyone who steals from us, let alone track down people in countries such as Russia who host web sites offering pirated versions of our work...Some would argue that we should just accept piracy as part of the job, but chances are the people who say this aren't aware of how widespread piracy really is. A quick look at my web server logs would be enough to startle most people, since the top referrers are invariably warez sites that link to my site (yes, not only do they steal my software, but they also suck my bandwidth).

A couple of years ago I wanted to get an idea of how many people were using pirated versions of TopStyle, so I signed up for an anonymous email account (using a "kewl" nickname, of course) and started hanging out in cracker forums. After proving my cracker creds, I created a supposedly cracked version of TopStyle and arranged to have it listed on a popular warez site....This cracked version pinged home the first time it was run, providing a way for me to find out how many people were using it. To my dismay, in just a few weeks more people had used this cracked version than had ever purchased it. I knew piracy was rampant, but I didn't realize how widespread it was until this test.

The proliferation of software piracy isn't anything new. The primary reason I'm bothering to post about it is that Aaron Swartz posted an obnoxious response to Nick's post entitled On Piracy, or, Nick Bradbury is an Amazing Idiot which besides containing a "parody" which is part Slippery Slope and part False Analogy ends with the following gems

Nick has no innate right to have people pay for his software, just as I have no right to ask people to pay for use of my name.

Even if he did, most people who pirate his software probably would never use it anyway, so they aren't costing him any money and they're providing him with free advertising.

And of course it makes sense that lots of people who see some interesting new program available for free from a site they're already at will download it and try it out once, just as more people will read an article I wrote in the New York Times than on my weblog.


Yes, piracy probably does take some sales away from Nick, but I doubt it's very many. If Nick wants to sell more software, maybe he should start by not screaming at his potential customers. What's next? Yelling at people who use his software on friends computers? Or at the library?

Aaron's arguments are so silly they boggle the mind but let's take them one at a time. Human beings have no innate rights. Concepts such as "unalienable rights" and documents such as the Bill of Rights have been agreed upon by some societies as the law but this doesn't mean they are universal or would mean anything if not backed up by the law and its enforcers. Using Aaron's argument, Aaron has no innate right to live in a house he paid for, eat food he bought or use his computer if some physically superior person or armed thug decides he covets his possessions. The primary thing preventing this from being the normal state of affairs is the law, the same law that states that software piracy is illegal. Western society has decided that Capitalism is the way to go (i.e. a party provides goods or services for sale and consumers of said goods and services pay for them). So for whatever definition of "rights" Aaron is using Nick has a right to not have his software pirated.  

Secondly, Aaron claims that if people illegally utilizing your software can't afford it then it's OK for them to do so. This argument is basically, "It's OK to steal if what you want is beyond your purchasing power". Truly, why work hard and save for what you want when you can just steal it. Note that this handy rule of Aaron's also applies to all sorts of real life situations. Why not shoplift, after all big department store chains can afford it anyway and in fact they factor that into their prices? Why not steal cars or rob jewellery stores if you can't afford them after all, it's all insured anyway right? The instant gratification generation truly is running amok.  

The best part of Aaron's post is that even though Nick states that there are more people using pirated versions of his software than those that paid for it Aaron dismisses this by saying that his personal opinion is that there wouldn't have been many lost sales by piracy then it devolves into some slippery slope argument about whether people should pay for using Nick's software on a friend's computer or at the library. Of course, the simple answer to this question is that by purchasing the software the friend or the library can let anyone use it, the same way that I can carry anyone in my car after purchasing it.  

My personal opinion is that if you think software is too expensive then (a) use cheaper alternatives (b) write your own or (c) do without it after all no one needs software. Don't steal it then try and justify your position with inane arguments that sound like the childish "information wants to be free" rants that used to litter Slashdot during the dotbomb era.


Monday, January 5, 2004 8:55:08 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Well, I almost never post replies to blogs, but I find my self doing it twice today and on the same blog.

Nick should probably be a little more scientific as well. I'm willing to bet that because of TopStyle's cool name, it got downloaded a lot and tried once, never to be used again, by a fair number of people. Having the thing ping with a unique ID each time it was used would quickly tell Nick how many pepole really should have purchased the software (as opposed to doing the equiv of downloading the trial version).

Don't take this in any way as a defense of Aaron's statement; Nick wrote it, so he can do whatever he likes and it is up to us to decide if we can live with it and use Nick's software. All I'm saying is know the limitations of your data. :-)
gordonwatts@mindspring.com (Gordon Watts)
Monday, January 5, 2004 10:38:39 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, I think you're being excessively savage.

There is the statement "Piracy costs me money" which is disputable. Piracy doesn't cost you; something has cost when you have to pay for it. Piracy is you not getting money that you should have, not people taking money from you.

This is the same as the reason why I dislike the shoplifting comparison - when a tangible thing is stolen, the rightful owner actually loses it.

Further, if somebody pirates a copy but there is absolutely no chance that that somebody would buy a copy, you don't lose a sale, because there was no chance of a sale existing in this case.

This is not to say that piracy is okay, only that there is not a direct relationship between software being pirated and income going down.

I still don't agree with Aaron, though - as the author of a thing, Nick can choose what he allows people to do with that thing. He can choose to allow people to use this thing without paying, or he can choose to allow people to use this thing provided they pay. Since that latter option is his choice, we should abide by it.

I have less sympathy for companies with million-dollar profits. I believe that if a company has lots of profit, they are doing something wrong.
Monday, January 5, 2004 11:48:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
it *is* lost profit.

a physical good in a department store is a good owned by it's evil bosses if you apply primitive thinking, but it can also be viewed as an investment in expected sales. the owner in this case is only interested in owning the good because he believes he's going to sell it to someone. so, by stealing it, you're not depriving him of the fruits of ownership of the good (consumer viewpoint), you're depriving him of an expected sale (investor viewpoint).

the fact that the good is material is of great importance to you because you're an average consumer expecting something from the product itself, but for the company distributing it's an investment with an expected profit, something totally immaterial.

from an investor standpoint piracy for an immaterial good is the equivalent of stealing for a material good. it means that an investment will be less profitable.

the fact that ownership of physical goods is respected enables a very efficient distribution chain. you don't have to go out to cut wood when you're freezing, to kill animals when you're hungry etc.

the fact that ownership of software goods is less respected means that there's a less efficient software distribution chain. so you'll have to write a lot of software yourself instead of having the time to read some elementary microeconomic books.
Monday, January 5, 2004 5:44:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Human beings have no innate rights, I agree. Still there exists in my opinion a difference between moral rights and legal rights, and it seems that Nick was referring to those moral rights. Thus irregardless of the innateness of moral rights, you have sidestepped the issue.

Secondly, copyright infrigment is not theft. It is possible that you object to both stealing of physical objects and copyright infrigment on the same grounds, but it is misleading to call copyright infrigment theft. Also your analogy to shoplifting doesn't make sense as you don't explain what -in your opinion- is the shared wrong between copyright infrigment and theft.

Monday, January 5, 2004 6:02:34 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Belligerent Dove,
I haven't sidestepped any issue. You've claimed that in your world view that there are innate rights and created some sort of hierarchy of rights. Since I don't subscribe to your world view there really isn't anything we can debate that won't be us talking past each other.

As for copyright infringement and theft, my opinion is clearly stated. I believe in the Capitalist system; I provide goods & services which people who consume them buy. If I want to give away goods & services as "free advertising" it should be my choice not one forced on me by freeloaders. By the way, the comment by lionel on this thread gives a better insight into why software piracy is theft or at the very least lost profit caused by malicious human action which to a business is the same thing.
Monday, January 5, 2004 7:36:04 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
That there are no innate rights would seem to agree with my claim. And I don't see what copyright law has to do with capitalism -- isn't capitalism supposed to drive things down to their marginal cost? On the Internet, that's apparently zero.

"Note that this handy rule of Aaron's also applies to all sorts of real life situations." This is absurd. Again, shoplifting prevents others from using things which _have_ a marginal cost. In this sense, piracy is simply a form of discriminatory pricing.

If once I purchase software I can let anyone use it, why can't I let my friends over the Internet use it? All of the sudden it becomes piracy!

lionel, an investment isn't less profitable if the piracy only comes from people who wouldn't buy it, as I argue.
Monday, January 5, 2004 9:52:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I claimed there are two types of rights: rights based in law and rights based on moral principles. These two seem, to me, to be the only kind of rights and my own world view has nothing to do with that. Legal rights are encoded in law, and are because of that protected by government. Moral rights dictate what one mustn't violate if they wish to be moral.

The existence of innate rights is not something existing in my world view, but they do seem to exist in Aaron's (whose name I got wrong in my previous post) world view. Now considering the previous established dichotomy this brings us to the question: what are these innate rights? As copyright is obviously an existing right in law and as Aaron denies the existance of this innate right, we guess that we're dealing with moral rights. (If this isn't obvious, I can provide a more definite proof.)

Now, in the first paragraph of your rebuttal you argue that there are no innate rights because rights need to be protected by government in order to exist. That is to say, you have proved that innate rights are not rights in law -- which we already knew. This is why I said you sidestepped the issue. You then concluded that for "whatever definition of 'rights' Aaron is using Nick has a right to not have his software pirated", an answer which actually depends entirely upon the existing or not existing of copyright as a moral right in Aaron's world view. That, or you need to disprove Aaron's world view.

Next is the shoplifting analogy. I'm afraid I'm not aware of a principle underlying both the existence of copyright and of 'normal' property. I think that, in Capitalism, property is justified on moral grounds and that copyright is a pragmatic measure instated to encourage creation of creative products. The justification being a pragmatic one also being the reason a time limit is set on copyright duration.

Following is the which-is-'free'-which-is-'forced' question which I'm not touching with a ten-foot pole because it's either semantic games or a dead-end enquiry to the philosophical 'natural' state of man. To clarify: I do not believe it is objectively so that copying a file equals *forcing* the author to give it to you; it could also be that the author *forces* you to not copy it by means of copyright / the state. Both are probably correct unless your world view (or ideology) has dogmas specifically for solving this problem.

Lastly, I do not believe I quite understand how illegaly copying something equals loss in profit for the original author if it is certain that one wouldn't have bought the product anyway. If investors believe they miss on an expected sale for every copy of the product that is illegaly copied then I believe they're simply measuring these losses of expected sales wrong (and I feel sorry if this effects developers). I'm afraid I don't understand how it effects the morality of the 'pirate' who wouldn't have bought the product if he couldn't get his hands on it illegaly.

Note: I actually run only free software and don't pirate pricesely because I align myself with many principles of the FSF. Also: I do not pretend the Free Software values are some absolute truth and hope that I didn't bring that message accross in my posts.
Tuesday, January 6, 2004 12:56:19 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
You're right, I think I meant moral rights.
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