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!