5 December 2016
Ethics and Software Piracy Narrative
Hello, I’m Blake Janowicz and I will be discussing Ethics and Software Piracy. Ethics are a set of principles that govern a person’s behavior, according to Merriam Webster dictionary. Everyone has heard of this at one time or another but software piracy is the copying, distribution or use of software as claimed by Tech Target. Software piracy happens on many different levels from corporate to the average consumer. The Business Software Alliance, or the BSA, estimates that 35-50% of all software in current use is pirated. Why do people pirate software? There is not any one answer. They may pirate software to continue work at home, expedite a process that would have taken much longer or for just pure entertainment. In turn, the benefits are spare time to spend with family or on other activities, it promotes learning and it saves financially, especially for those who can’t contribute to the purchase or costly monthly services. On the contrary, if pirated products are sold for profit or software is offered to someone who would otherwise buy the product, this can be significantly damaging and discouraging to a company and, in extreme cases, companies may cease to produce certain software due to the financial burden. The reason the sales of pirated software is so successful is because it significantly undercuts the retail price.
As stated by Legal Beagle, before 1980 intellectual property rights minimally applied to computer software. If you wanted you could obtain software legally by just copying the source code; copying the complete compiled version was illegal. During the late 1970s Bill Gates along with others spoke out against the limited protection of software which resulted in legalities to protect software. One may think, wow, this may prove difficult to pirate, trade and distribute software at a time where the internet was barely developed but dial up Bulletin Board Systems were available, which were computer servers running a terminal program to allow users to access data. Pirated programs were then uploaded and distributed locally. The classic way was to meet in person with other pirates to trade floppy disks; the primary reason is floppy disks allowed an easy alternative to hold big files for the time. Come the 1980s, law enforcement was hard pressed to crackdown on the distribution of illegal software because the BBS systems distributed the pirated software for free, so there was no issue of profiting from illegal software making the administering of penalties hard. Forward to the 1990s and the issue of piracy became larger with the wide availability of the internet.
Today, software piracy is everywhere. However, much more repercussions exist than they did twenty years ago due to the development of digital law. Companies go after acts of piracy all the time resulting in big lawsuits, settlements and DMCA violations; which are being distributed more than they ever have. A recent large case is the six men who sold 170,000 pirated copies of Adobe and Microsoft programs and $100 million in sales. This involved the Department of Justice and the men face up to five years in prison and $250,000 restitution each. Though, many violations go undetected or with minimal attention because of larger scale acts of piracy being committed, diverting attention; the attention goes to those selling pirated software. This gives people the incentive to pirate due to its relatively low risk and ease to stay relatively inconspicuous. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, in a 10-year period from 2002-2012, $240 billion dollars was lost in sales from pirated software with an estimated 42,000 jobs lost as a result. While one may think a single program pirated may be victimless, when sold in large quantities it affects many people.
Solutions can only be given once the questions are asked. The solutions relating to making software piracy “right” is largely circumstantial. Is there a viable alternative to pirating software? If the option of pirating was not available, would the user buy the product anyway or would they go without? How can software piracy be prevented effectively and how can software be offered to underprivileged people? What about those just using it strictly for their own personal use? The argument referring to the fine line between pirated software expanding the knowledge of people for the greater good of society and it being illegal is a difficult one, indeed. One solution would be to increase monitoring and punishments regarding software piracy. This would force those who have the funds to purchase the software because pirating would prove more difficult and a larger sense of fear would be established. It comes down to worth. If the time value, risk, and resources it takes to retrieve the software outweighs the actual cost to legitimately buy the software, it will be purchased rather than stolen. For those that are financially burdened or underprivileged, some programs already exist to get legitimate software out there at discounted costs but more should definitely exist; whether it is subsidized or offered by an institution. As stated earlier, ethics are widely based on personal thoughts and beliefs so the answer as to whether software piracy is ethical will vary depending on the individual. Those only obtaining the software without distributing it do less damage than those who do but it is still against intellectual property law. I think it is safe to say, however, that software piracy is predominately unethical due to the negative effects it produces. Thank you for listening!