October 28, 1996
Recently, The Toronto Star published an article entitled “RCMP seizes BBS,
piracy charges pending.” The RCMP have possessed all computer components
belonging to the “90 North” bulletin board system in Montreal, Quebec. The
board is accused of allowing people the opportunity to download (get) commercial
and beta (or commercial) software versions. I feel that the RCMP should not
charge people that are linked to computer piracy, because the pirated software
offers valuable opportunity to programmers and users. Also, revenue lost to the
large software companies is such a small amount that the effect won’t be greatly
felt by them and so it is not worth the policing effort required to track down
When pirates distribute the illegal software, one could say that they are
helping, than hurting the software companies. By distributing the software
world wide, it creates great advertisement for the software companies and their
products. Although the software company is losing profits from that particular
version, it could generate future sales with other versions. Also, when the
pirates distribute the software this could be a great source of test data for
the software companies. This is an effective way to catch any unfounded bugs in
the software program. From debugging to hacking, hackers can benefit the most.
They can study and learn from the advancements with in the programming.
So what does all this activity tell us? This tells us the people are
willing to go to great lengths to get software at a lower cost, or possibly in
exchange for other software and that they are succeeding in their efforts.
Although more than 50% of their software income is from other companies which do
not pirate, this poses a problem for the software industries. By fining a
single bulletin board out of the thousands in North America, there would be
little accomplished. Not to mention the fact the it is extremely difficult to
prove and convict people under the Copyright Act. In today’s society, revenue
from software is such a small income source for corporations such as WordPerfect
Corp. These companies make their money mainly from individuals purchasing extra
manuals, reference material, supplementary hardware, and calling product support.
Software companies are conscious of the pirate world and the changes they have
made. Some companies actually want you to take the software by using the
SHAREWARE concept. In SHAREWARE one gets a chance to use demo programs and then
pay for the full purchase if he feels it is worthwhile. It is a bit like test
driving a car, before one buys. In most cases, users are happy and end up
purchasing complete software. Most software companies are still in business,
and still bringing up more technological advancements that entice users to
continually buy newer versions. The companies, in this sense , have outsmarted
and beaten the pirates. Violation of the Copyright Act seems to benefit
software companies more than it hurts them. Their software gets more exposure
which leads to more software revenue in the end than revenue that is lost
through piracy. The opportunity cost is worth it in the end.
Cracking down on software piracy is a waste of societies energy. There is
more benefit for everyone the way things are in the present. Users get to view
and evaluate it before they pay. Hackers get a opportunity to view other works
and learn from the advancements on or find the errors in the beta versions.
Software companies get more exposure which in the long run will lead to more
revenues for them.