David Thornburg's recent comments on piracy have evoked some stimulating reader responses. We generally have found, over the years, that those who scream the loudest about their right to steal software exhibit some pretty convoluted logic. Example: The company who makes it charges too much for it. Solution: This makes it okay to copy? The list goes on. We've quoted here from a letter that we feel provides an excellent example of some not-so-legitimate concerns. Although the author failed to include a name or address, we'd like to comment on some of his or her remarks.
…I feel that the software companies are making out like bandits. They charge outrageous amounts for programs that are not worth the money that is charged.
A more traditional belief in our society has upheld the theory of the free market rather than free theft. The free-market theory argues that a vendor who gouges, or delivers less than true value for one's dollar, will eventually be caught up with by the marketplace. Here's another novel argument our friend advances:
…I support pirating and have on tap possibly 600 disks for both the Apple and IBM XT…[If]…I had to pay for them I would have more money in the software than I do in my house. And this is over $300,000…
This one's great. The logical extension of this argument is that we should collectively become a community of thieves. Given our need for software, and what apparently has become an inherent right to possess software, the solution to the expense of collecting it becomes pure thievery. The rest of us are fortunate that this same logic hasn't begun to be applied to houses and cars. Now we're getting to the real heart of the arguments.
We've covered the justifications of overcharging, in various guises, and now turn to the converse:
…do not give me that it hurts the developer of the code. All companies and corporations buy hundreds—if not thousands of copies of the program at the price (if not higher) that the publisher asks for.
In other words, either the software company already makes enough money, or it has already factored individual theft into its corporate sales. This is logic similar to the present arguments over liability insurance. Eventually everything has some impact, positive or negative, on the individual consumer.
Software piracy, and theft, cannot have a beneficial impact. As an activity generally shielded by, for example, one's right to privacy, enforcement of software rights is quite difficult. It's one of those areas where there's a gray area between community standards enforced by fear of exposure and community standards enforced by one's own sense of duty to that community. We personally feel that is the response to our friend's final remark.
…if the software industry wishes me to buy and use software legally, they must give me more reason to, other than the pity stories of the developers losing money.
Every time we mention something related to software piracy, some reader raises the question, "How can you run advertisements for software designed to help users copy protected disks if that's the way you feel?" There's one significant reason. We used to decline advertising that in any way promoted utilities designed for copying protected software. After the copyright law was amended to allow for a software owner's right to make and store a backup of software, we amended our policy to support that notion. In short, we accept such advertising when it subscribes to those purposes supported in the copyright law. We refuse and routinely reject piracy-oriented advertising. There's a sense of semantic jousting with windmills here that's inescapable under the circumstances, simply because we can't avoid the fact that some people will use legitimate backup programs to make duplicate copies for nonlegitimate users of a product. There is no doubt in our minds that such use can only be described as theft, regardless of the various arguments, such as those above, raised to support it. On the other hand, we feel quite strongly that a user has a full right to make and keep a backup. Some companies have attended to this by providing users with a backup. Others have chosen to avoid copy-protection altogether. Still others have made provision for obtaining a backup. In short, we support the notion of having access to a backup. We don't support the notion of using that need to justify distribution of the software.
In this case perhaps we should ask the question, "When is the media the message?" That seems to be the heart of a recent debate over CompuServe's exercise of its right to limit distribution of software that is undeniably public domain software. The more heated proponents of the public domain position argue that CompuServe is somehow appropriating the public domain products. We think this is an oversimplification, and as CompuServe points out, it is in fact attempting to promote and assist the utilization of such software by its subscribers. Understandably enough, CompuServe is not trying to promote and disseminate such software to those who are not subscribers. Seems fair enough. You'll find a couple of sometimes contrasting points of view on pages 30 and 31.
Until next time, enjoy your COMPUTE!.
Robert C. Lock
Editor in Chief
We welcome Sheldon Leemon and his new column, "Microscope," to the pages of COMPUTE!. Microscope will focus on industry news and what's on the horizon in the world of microcomputers. Sheldon, a freelance author based in Michigan, has written two COMPUTE! books—Mapping the Commodore 64 and Inside Amiga Graphics—and coauthored COMPUTE!'s Amiga-DOS Reference Guide; MacTalk: Telecomputing on the Macintosh; and COMPUTE!'s Telecomputing on the IBM. The column debuts on page 66 in this issue.