Pirate or Privateer?

Today, a groundswell of Internet users became activists as the threat of censorship and government regulation quivered in the shaky paws of ill educated legislators. The blogosphere, tweets, Facebook Shares and Google +1s were all over the story. Fortunately, the Office of the President recognized the obvious mounting outrage and voiced their lack of support for such measures, which extinguished the torches of the Senate Committee, leaving them standing around with just their pitchforks. This legislation sought to grant powers which would force search engines, and similar disinterested third parties, to remove domains and URLs to websites that have copyright infringing material, or other things bad for the American people. Everyone knows copyright infringement puts American jobs at risk and is costing the economy billions of dollars. That what they say, anyway.

Sadly, this is a very superficial way to look at this issue. You steal a copy of an expensive piece of software by downloading it from a filesharing service. OK, you didn't pay for it so the company lost a sale right? Be honest, would you would have purchased a legitimate copy in the first place? Probably not. You saw it in fileshare, recognized the software and clicked the link to start a long download. You may actually install it someday, play with it for 30 minutes, and then close it. A week from now, you will delete it to make room for the next one you found. This is not a shady meeting in the back of a warehouse down at the docks. It is not even buying bootlegs for $5 from a box of warm CDs from a 15 year old walking down the sidewalk. You did not actively seek it out, much less give any thought to your getaway.

Now, I can say I am quite familiar with the state of affairs with today's low quality of software. I have shelled out $250 for "Productivity" software suites that were totally useless and impossible to use. "Personal Organization" software for $50 that I couldn't get to integrate properly with MSOffice or Outlook. You almost need dual degrees in computer science and calculus to use some photo and video editing software on the market today. Needless to say, I am not a fan. However, I am blessed to be from the USA where I had access to such frivolity and I had enough product choices in the market to get burned once or twice. Let's go to Romania.

If I were born in Bucharest 20 years ago, I would have been present for the fall of communism and a disasterous effort to build a working economy. I would have been educated in one of the lowest ranked public education systems in the world, and if I went to the best University in the country, I would still be barely eligible for admission to most Universities in the world. Textile mill job for me. But, in the last five years, foreign investment has been driving demand for technical and clerical workers. I don't have access to MSOffice, CAD programs or Programming Suites because of the high prices, import taxes, and market scarcity. Yet, I could use that software to make a difference in my future. If I can use it long anough to figure it out, I would have some marketable skills. I would at least be ahead of the competition. Should an American law keep me in that textile mill? Our Congress seems to think so. Can't I just learn how to use it, since I don't want to run a business or make money with it yet? Not according to the license. I am a criminal, not a student.

Looking at China, where the studies seem to point to rampant piracy of Windows and MSOffice, the installed user base is huge. Huge. There are more people in China who use the Internet daily on their cell phone than there are people in the entire United States. If MS had aggressively curtailed the piracy of their products there, just imagine how many people would have adopted Apple or Linux as a lower cost alternative. How would that statistic look to their American user base? They could have 100% market share in the US, but be 30% overall if China went another direction. What OS would be on our "American" cell phones, which are made in China? The funny part is, none of this stops them from claiming all those pirated copies as installed users. If you have ever done the math found in revenue reports and market claims, you may discover that MSOffice seems to average $30 per license. Where is that sale going on? They may feel cheated at the checkout line, but they enjoy a market adoption rate that fuels other product purchases and energizes innovative compatible product markets. That is a big win where the market stakes are so tremendously high.

Piracy has it's double edge. Yes, it feels like you are cheating the company out of some money. But, using the software is a type of advertisement, and would be called viral marketing if it were an iPhone App. So, let's remember who we are protecting. Piracy laws allow companies with lawyers to make money off of the users of their very own software. They spend millions advertising it, and then try to get money from people learning how the damn thing works before they invest in the software. Wait, weren't Piracy laws intended to prevent greedy bastards with chests of gold from preying on smaller passers by? My mistake.