Software piracy from a small developer’s point of view

As a hobby shareware developer I am a “victim” of software piracy. At least according to the traditional view by large software corporations and anti-piracy organization. But is this really true? Is software piracy always bad?

Let’s take Adobe Photoshop as an example. Despite being a very expensive piece of software it is used by a majority of professionals graphics workers. It is also one of the most popular pirated software, and of course Adobe complains about this. But would Photoshop be as large as it is today if it had not been possible to obtain pirated copies of it? I think not…

Imagine a young and aspiring graphics artist. Perhaps 15 years old, I dare to predict that getting hold of a legitimate copy of Photoshop is close to impossible. That leaves two choices; get a pirated copy, or choose one of the alternatives. Bare in mind that there are a myriad of very competent alternatives, some of them free, some of them cost a fraction of Photoshop. They might not be as good as Photoshop, but they are without a doubt good enough for most people (with a potential to become great if more people started using and buying it…).

Now imagine this person growing up, getting his or her first job as a graphics artist at a real company. What software is this person most likey to want to use? Probably the same software as (s)he is already used to. And so the company needs buy a license for this software. Or from the other way around, a company might already be using Photoshop. In order for them to find competent workers who already have Photoshop skills, it is necessary for Photoshop to be available to normal persons for learning purposes.

My point is that in the end, pirated software turns legitimate. Building a solid user base takes time. Pirated software can be a key to this. You may not get paid for every single copy ever used, but you might look at it as a sort of advertising.

Among my geeky friends, software piracy has always been prevalent. But as we’ve grown up and matured, gotten jobs and more money to spend, our habits have changed. I see many of my friends buying software now that they have been using illegally for a long time. I also get mail from users of my own software, ‘fessing up and buying a license.

This reasoning mainly applies to software that is used on a regular basis. Software solving one-off problems and games that you only play to finish are examples that likely would not benefit from piracy in the same way. They still might benefit some though. If the pirate is a person without funds that could never have bought it anyway, the developer has not lost any money. The person might however have liked the game and spread the word to friends, write reviews etc, providing a possible indirect stream of revenue. One person I know bought several Humble Indie Bundle packs, because they each contained a game that he had previously pirated.

But how do I feel about my own software being pirated? After all it’s easy to be positive about piracy when you aren’t affected by the (supposed) losses yourself. Well, to begin with I’m not a saint myself, so it’s hard for me to judge other people. But how much have I lost due to piracy? I have no idea. But I doubt it’s much, considering that people who use pirated software usually do not buy software att all. It might even be that I have gained from the extra publicity, as outline above.

If I see my software pirated on some site I don’t bother to report the link, even though it would not be hard for me to do. And I have actually purposely spread my own software on ThePirateBay in order to gain a little publicity. The only thing I hate and try to report is when I see “download sites” that actually sell my (and other developer’s) software. But that’s a completely different matter.

In the end, while I don’t applaud people pirating my software, neither do I condemn them. Of course I would love to see them buying my software instead. But I’d much more rather see people using and enjoying my software, than not at all!

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7 Responses to Software piracy from a small developer’s point of view

  1. smaragdus says:

    I agree that ‘piracy’ can be and is a great promotion tool. In fact most of the people who use pirated copies would never buy software because they don’t have the means to do it. Imagine an unemployed guy/girl somewhere in Siberia, or in India, or in South America, where people strive to survive. So in general software piracy does not mean financial losses.

    As for me, I never use pirated copies with the exception of some old games, some of which are no longer available on the market. I never use pirated software because my conscience would not let me do it. From time to time I buy software not because I need it (I can think of a good free (often open-source) alternative to almost every commercial product) but at whim, at some discounts, sometimes only because I like a commercial product’s interface. In fact I have created a list of good commercial products that (in my opinion) deserve to be purchased and from time to time when I have some surplus money I buy a program or two and remove it from the list. ;)

    Yet I think that there are developers who deserve their products to be pirated- just imagine you buy an application, install it and after some time your hard drive breaks down, or you need to re-install your OS only to find out that the license key no longer works because it is an one-time registration key. This is unfair. Or another example- a developer changes the life-time license to minor updates license, you install the software knowing that your license is a life-time one only to discover that your life-time key is invalid. Another example- there are applications that can un-register themselves- anytime you run the app it connects to remote server and checks whether your IP is the same as the IP from which you registered the product, if it is not- the programs un-registers- this is ridiculous and unfair since we are no longer living in the feudal ages, we are not stuck to a particular place, we use laptops and we travel.

    • Dan says:

      Your last paragraph is sad but true. Photoshop CC was just released. In order to install it you need their download/update manager running on your system. This is probably one of the most hated “applications” ever! Ironically if you choose the pirated version of Photoshop CC you get an offline installer.

      Actually, pirated software is often easier to install and use thanks to the loss of DRM. It’s not uncommon to hear people using pirated/cracked versions of software they own just because of this.

      People loosing their license key is more common than you might think. When you enter your license key into one of my program, it specifically tells you to write it down and store in a safe place in case you would need to reinstall. Yet I still get many letters from people who need help finding it again… Of course I help them. All my software come with lifetime upgrades. A very bad business decision, but this is how I would like to be treated myself by other software companies.

      • smaragdus says:

        I don’t mind minor updates for free and paid major updates or 1 year of free updates, but ONLY when this is stated clearly. For example- you buy license for a remote utility version 6, install it on some machines but forget to disable auto-update, when the remote utility auto-updates to version 7 on these machines you cannot access them from your remote utility 6 machine and you need to buy a new license again. Another policy I don’t like is online registration- sometimes the server is down, sometimes you need to install the purchased product on a machine that doesn’t/can’t connect to the web, and the worst possible scenario- when you need to re-install a purchased app the publisher’s site and respectively the registration server no longer exist. Another bad practice (some freeware developers also employ it) is to set an expiration date- it often happens that the application is abandoned and since it is set to expire it cannot be used (unless you are willing to adjust the date and time, which is absurd). Another thing I don’t like- an application that exists in 5 or more versions- Light, Standard, Professional, Ultra, Ultimate, etc, and often the developer does not have the courage to publish the prices straight but uses his pattern- Light-20, Standard- Light+10, etc. Other developers get paranoid- no online license delivery, only a CD via snail-mail (one of the most famous file managers relies on this kind of delivery).

        I usually save the license keys in several places- I keep a copy in my e-mail, in the folder where I keep the installer, in a back-up folder.

        Anyway, since the software developers live in this world they too need revenue for their work. But only few have thought of more flexible selling schemes- different prices for different countries- for example 30$ USD might be cheap in USA or Germany but extremely expensive in Belarus or Colombia.

        Sometimes lower prices might tempt the user (including me) to buy a program, therefore- lower prices might mean more sales.

        Yes, you are right, I checked ThePirateBay and really did find one of your apps available there in many versions. Of course I would never download it since this way I would insult not only you, but myself too(I usually think of myself ;) ).

        Anyway, your products are of good quality (no compliments here, I really think it) and deserve to be purchased. In fact some of them are in my list but I haven’t bought any of them since they are specific and I don’t have a great need of them (I can’t remember when was the last time I needed to batch-rename files). By the way your free tools are also good- for example I use Snap2HTML often and although simple it is better than many commercial products, so I will understand you if you decide to make it payware.

  2. Mike says:

    Please allow me to comment on the Photoshop example and specifically its Adobe’s ‘long term’ policy, at least the way I see it.

    A few years back I bought myself a Photoshop-license.
    After their latest version (CS6) it is nót possible to buy a single license anymore, rather users have no alternative but to subscribe. I am sure that I am not the only ‘small’ Photoshop-user, very much disliking a monthly subscription.
    So, I’ll stick to the version I have for as long as the product is supported/updated.
    The support will end at one point in time though and there will be no updates.

    Now … here comes the ‘long term’ thing:
    when a user -then- buys a new camera, the ‘RAW’-format will most likely nót be supported by the ‘old’ Photoshop version. Let’s assume that Photoshop users tend to be enthousiastic photographers and they may buy a new camera every couple of years. It may be after 3-4 years, it may be after 6-7 years.
    Then only… they will discover that Photoshop does not support the RAW-format of the newly bought camera. So they are facing the choice of either subscribing or trying to find and buy an alternative product, some quality RAW-converter, which bottomline is also costing money…

    Being familiar with Photoshop’s features, that will be close to impossible. So, in the end, some of them see themselves having to subscribe… Something they have been trying to postpone as long as possible, hoping Adobe will re-introduce the ‘single’ version.
    Sofar Adobe has no subscription on 1 single product only, it is always a combo and users need to pay for a product they don’t use.

    Lastly, over a couple of years the total costs of a subscription is higher than that of a single license and above all, there is no guarantee the subscription rate will remain the same….

    • Dan says:

      Excellent observation. In my view, subscription models (software and otherwise) are rarely beneficial for the consumers. Sure, there is a convenience built into it and you might get a better price initially, but in the long run the company selling the service or product is the winner.

  3. Mac says:

    I think piracy is good

  4. DarkCider says:

    I have mixed views on piracy. You have a valid point in that Photoshop may have gotten some free publicity from the piracy but I don’t think its so simple. You mention that they will eventually pay for the software, this might be true some of the time, but I would argue that it will not for many others. Some people might just use photoshop as a home user and once they get a pirated copy they may very likely never pay for it in the near future.

    Also certain companies that might use photoshop may never pay for software once they get a pirated version that is usable, you tend to see this a lot in developing countries but they are not the only ones.

    Also Photoshop is still king because its has the most features and is used by a large group of people, I think that even without any piracy there would still be high demand, there is still a clear reason its still on the top. I often hear friends of mine wanting to do some basic editing, then thinking they need Photoshop to do it, not because its the only one but because its the only one they know.

    As for your young and aspiring photoshop users we still have the option of going the legal route as I’m sure there is sort of discount for them. But as a counter argument this may not be applicable to many outside the US or UK.

    One of my pet peeves is that I don’t think there is enough understanding about alternatives out there for Photoshop, some just want Photoshop instead of looking at the cheaper or even free software that can do everything you need.

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