Acquiring unauthorized copies of computer software, also known as pirating software, is a problem that is occurring constantly. Individuals get online, download a free file-sharing program, and can use a program within seconds. Most people download unauthorized software because it easy to do at no expense. The Business Software Alliance and others against pirating software say that it is a problem because people are stealing others work, it is unethical, and the consequences outweigh the risk. I disagree; pirating software is definitely helping companies more than hurting them by pirates promoting companies products, allowing people to gain knowledge through the companies products, and giving concrete reviews for the companies to work off of.

Computer software is essentially what makes a computer work. Operating systems, word processors, browsers, and all applications are examples of software. Software is installed onto a computer, and performs certain tasks depending on the type of software. For example, word processing software is software that is made to handle words. This means the software helps the user put words together to create a sentence, paragraph, or paper. This software helps the user write papers by correcting misspelled words, revising fragments, and editing punctuation mistakes. Some word processing software is free, some is not. What incentive does someone have to buy word processing software when there is software already in existence for free? Typically software that costs money has some sort of extra feature that the free version does not have. For example, a free word processing application may contain the basics, such as correcting misspelled words, creating layouts, etc. An application that costs money may have all of the basics, along with a built in thesaurus.

Software developers and companies lose billions of dollars a year due to people pirating their software. Instead of these companies making money for what they develop, their software ends up on millions of computers by piracy. Only a fraction of what they make is actually purchased, resulting in millions of people having unauthorized software on their computer. According to the Business Software Alliance in 2006, 35% of software installed on personal computers worldwide was acquired illegally, producing approximately $40 billion in global loses due to software piracy.

According to the Copyright Laws, copying software is an act of copyright infringement. Copyright infringement carries many consequences, which can be civil and criminal penalties. It’s illegal whether you use pirated software yourself, trade it, give it away, or sell it. Most software that is for sale is copyright-protected, meaning the software is protected under the Copyright Laws. Copyrights are enforceable for 95 years, and failure to obey the laws can result in heavy consequences. People who disobey the laws are liable for any damages to copyright owners, up to a $250,000 fine (in addition to damages), and up to five years in jail (“Copyright Law”).

The Business Software Alliance and others against pirating software say that piracy is stealing. People shouldn’t steal from others because they wouldn’t want it happening to them: do unto others as you would have done unto you (the Golden Rule). Companies invest a lot of time and money into software that they develop, and these companies want to be compensated for the time they put in. According to these companies, when people steal their software, the companies gain nothing. People against pirating software also say that it isn’t worth the risk. The consequences are too great for what you get out of the software.

Aside from the legal arguments, there is the ethical side of the issue. To be fair and honest, no one should steal software. If you were the one making the software, would you want to be compensated for your work? If you were no longer the user and were part of the company, would it be fair if someone pirated your software? If we look at it from the virtue side of ethics, the notion of honesty, faithfulness, trustworthiness, and integrity are inconsistent with the participation in the distribution of pirated software.

Another argument against pirating software is this: if everyone stole the software, there would not be newer versions that come out. There would be no revenue put back into the project for research and development (Cheng 2; Shoup). As the technology of world increases, the software would not, simply because everyone pirates the software. Without updated versions, the software would eventually become useless because it is so far out-of-date.

Now to the flip side of the issue: pirating software is a good thing. Lets look at a simply analogy to present the effects of software piracy. In the United States of America, illegal aliens are flowing into the country at an alarming rate. The federal government is attempting to drastically minimize the amount of illegal aliens that come into the country. Now let’s say the United States not only stopped the flow of illegal aliens coming into the country, but they also forced all the existing illegal aliens to leave the country. What impact would that have on the economy? The economy would almost shut down. The fact of the matter is that the illegal aliens do a lot of the dirty work that most U.S. citizens wouldn’t do, even though this dirty work is work that has to be done. This analogy presents why software piracy is not necessarily bad. It is very similar to how software is spread and used among the world. Companies release software onto the market in hopes of people buying it for the price it is listed. How many people actually buy software for the price it is listed? Not many. Large corporations and schools purchase the most software at full price (Rothken). How does a company get the word out about their software? One of the best ways to get the word out is by letting people use it. Software pirates that use the products spread the word around about it and other software pirates use it, and then corporations purchase it. If pirating software weren’t so easily available to anyone, the software would barely circulate among computers. These companies are essentially relying on pirates for a lot of the dirty work, such as writing reviews and advertising.

To look at an example of how this works, lets take the infamous Adobe Photoshop. Yes, it is an amazing piece of software, and is also one of the most pirated pieces of software in existence. Fewer than 5% of its users have purchased a personal copy of the software (O’Sullivan). This means that the other 95% is made up of corporations/schools who buy the software in bulk, and software pirates. Why is this? For one, it is way too expensive for most people to purchase. If you want to buy a personal copy, you should be looking to spend of the best part of a half grand. How many teenagers or college students have $500 to spend on a piece of software? Of the 95% if Photoshop users who didn’t buy a personal copy, nearly 60% were people who were using a pirated copy (Auer). If there weren’t this many people pirating software, how would the software even become known or reviewed? Companies rely on people to copy their software; otherwise the applications would never get a sufficient trial and review. In attempt to correct this issue, companies began to release demo versions. For one, demo versions aren’t enough. Many demo versions are not even fully featured, and therefore don’t give you the full functionality of the software. Other demo versions that give fully featured versions are equally useless because you get to use it for 30 days. 30 days is nowhere near long enough to learn to use an intricate program like Photoshop, or more importantly learn to depend on it. For these reasons, companies depend on software pirates in order to spread the word and get solid reviews about their software. Adobe Photoshop is now world-renowned due to the publicity of it being pirated. This fact alone shows the positive affect of software piracy.

The Business Software Alliance and others against software piracy say that piracy results in billions of dollars of money lost. How is the money lost if it was never earned? The calculations for the loss are based off the number of pieces of pirated software times the cost. That calculation is 99% flawed because 99% of people would not be using the software in the first place if they didn’t pirate it.

The Business Software Alliance says that pirating software is unethical. If you look at it from the utilitarianism approach, pirating software is ethical. The moral value of an action is determined by the how well the action contributes to the total happiness (Sinnott-Armstrong). Pirating software causes companies, law enforcement, and anti-piracy groups to be upset, while creating happiness for all the software users. If you look at the total amount of happiness gained compared to the total negative happiness, the overall happiness is positive. From the utilitarian approach, this would make pirating software ethical (Sinnott-Armstrong). The companies aren’t necessarily upset that people are pirating software, because it provides a means of advertising, and allows the companies to receive solid reviews. The consequentiality in Utilitarianism rules in the same manner that piracy of software is ethical – the ends justify the means (Sinnott-Armstrong). This basically says that the overall outcome will in general be positive, making the moral value of the action positive. The overall moral outcome is positive because you have millions of people using software that they may buy in the future, putting up solid reviews for the companies to adjust to, and gaining valuable skills by using the software.

It is quite amazing how many teenagers out there have a great amount of knowledge about the computer. This includes everything from encrypting data on a server to being able to design and sell company logos for $1,000 a pop. Where do these teenagers gain the knowledge for this? The big answer to this would be software piracy. Because teenagers can get high quality software for free, they can gain the knowledge from using the software for free as well, instead of paying tuition and fees to have a college or university teach them how to use it. Take “beedee” for example. Seven years ago, “beedee” was a freshman college student majoring in theatre. At this time, he was beginning to discover something new called the Internet. He would spend hours upon hours of his time surfing the Internet, and discovering some amazing things. Within no time, he began pirating software, one of them being the good ole Adobe Photoshop. He began spending his hours doing graphics design and putting his work onto a basic webpage for the world to see. When there was an ad posted in the school bulletin looking for a graphics designer, he quickly took action and ended up landing a position into the world of graphics design. Over the next several years, he began pirating more software and using the software to learn more valuable skills that would serve him later on. To no surprise, that college freshman was a friend of my older brothers. He was on a fast track to nowhere until he discovered pirated software. Today, instead of trying to make a living as a theatre major, he is making a comfortable living as a graphics designer. Nearly every person I know that pirates software uses the software in order to learn the skills necessary to accomplish the task that needs to be done, whether that is the skills to get a job, or the skills to make logos which generates just enough money to survive. And once they can afford to hand out the cash for the software they use most, they do. I’d rather see these people using pirated software to make a steady income in an at-home graphics studio than standing in line waiting to pick up their unemployment checks.

The fact of matter is that software pirates are necessary in today’s world in order for the software business to exist. Without software pirates, the software would not get a sufficient amount of reviews, and the products would not be circulated throughout the market unless the companies were willing to fork out their checkbooks. From a Utilitarian standpoint, pirating software generates the most happiness for the people using the software and the companies engineering (Sinnott-Armstrong). People with no money can learn to do amazing things with the computer, virtually free. Software companies are not losing anything; they are only gaining the promotion of their products. Because of these reasons, pirating software is beneficial to the business world.

Sources:

  • Auer, Brian. “60% of Photoshop Users are Pirates”. Epic Edits Weblog. 20 April, 2008.
  • Cheng, Hsing. “To purchase or to pirate software: an empirical study”. Journal of Management Information Systems March 1997: 49-60.
  • “Copyright Law : Chapter 5.” Copyrights of US. 1998. US Government. 19 Apr 2008.
  • “Engineering Ethics.” 2008. Texas A & M. 10 Apr. 2008.
  • MacDonald, Chris. “The Ethics of Web Site Engineering.” 1995. CMC Magazine. 10 Apr. 2008.
  • O’Sullivan, John. “Stealing Software the Old-Fashion Way”. Linux. 20 April, 2008.
  • “Piracy Study”. Business Software Alliance. 20 April, 2008.
  • Rothken, Ira. “Are you a software pirate?”. BNET. 10 April 2008.
  • Shoup, Terry. “Software Pirating and Ethics.” 2000. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. 10 Apr.
  • Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. “Consequentialism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. Stanford. 29 Apr 2008.
  • “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” 2001. UCLA Online Institute. 10 Apr. 2008