So, I’m a gamer and a programmer, so this topic hits a little close to home for me. And while I’ll be arguing in support for the moral permissibility of software piracy, it’s not something I do myself (admittedly, that’s mostly because I’ve never really owned a powerful enough setup where I could run current-gen games at what I considered an acceptable rate & the game still look nice).

Anyhow, my case is short and relatively easy to grasp. What exactly is being done when one pirates software and other various files? Basically, you’re downloading stuff that’s been replicated by someone who bought and uploaded that item online (I think it’s fairly safe to assume most people uploading these would-be pirated materials didn’t manage steal some physical copy of it). So, generally the producer of these items do in fact get paid for the item they produced. But do they have some further, morally significant claim to what the buyer does personally with their product? I think the water gets murky here for those claiming piracy is theft, pure and simple.

Let’s draw a comparison with what we do with other goods. I have friends who own cars, and friends do not. On various occasions, we carpool together or share our cars with each other. Now, each of us who owns a car legitimately purchased them. So, are our friends whom we share our cars with stealing from us? I think it’s clear enough that they aren’t. Now, are they stealing from car manufacturers? After all, as is often trumpted against digital pirates, these manufacturers are loosing potential revenue from those who share cars/carpool, as they’re getting usage of a product they didn’t pay for.

But this seems odd. Both cases seem essentially equal, in that they each involve the sharing of a purchased product with those whom did not purchase said product, yet it is only with the car (and equivalent instances) where we categorically deny calling it theft. Yet with piracy, whom is being stolen from? Claims of “potential revenue” being lost seem spurious and presumptuous for reasons ranging from how it is you know that those whom use the product actually intended to buy it, to the aforementioned example being situationally equivalent. And pirated material are merely copies of the material produced, so no actual, physical property has been poached whatsoever, by which one could actually make some legitimate claim. Claiming this to be theft seems akin to claiming that, if I had a magical wand that could replicate anything I wanted and I replicated my neighbor’s car so that I had one myself, that I’m stealing from my neighbor. What is my neighbor (or anyone else) actually loosing here?

I suppose that’s really most of what I have to say on the matter. While I think piracy is morally permissible (because no harm is really being done by that act in and of itself), I would myself recommend generally supporting the producers of these products. This is mostly because in the economic system we’re in, we must unfortunately have money to sustain ourselves (and I think piracy is an example of why our economic system needs a radical change /tangent/ ). And if we don’t show them support with our money, they go bye-bye, so it’s in our interests as gamers, audiophiles, etc. to maintain said support for producers if we wish to continue to enjoy them. 😦 A comparable comparison would be that you should probably give your friends gas money sometimes if you plan on borrowing/carpooling with them often.

If you disagree with me or find fault with some part of my case, be sure to leave a comment below.



One thought on “Software? PIRATE DAT SHIT

  1. Alex (@Selfexaminelife) says:

    I find the comparison between pirated digital media and cars to be a suspect one. With regards to say, music on iTunes, or games on Steam, to my knowledge it is not the case that we are actually purchasing these products as we are with a car, or other physical object. My understanding is that we are merely purchasing a license to use them that has an open end date, one that can be terminated by the license issuer at their leisure for any reason. This is prominently displayed in their terms and services (especially on Steam, or any other gaming platform) where one is warned that the banning of their account will carry the consequence of no longer being able to access their ‘purchased’ software. One has to repurchase the games with an entirely new account if they wish to play them again.

    This is a significant legal, practical and perhaps moral difference as compared to physical objects for purchase, as once the exchange has been made, the manufacturer no longer has the right to revoke access to my property; it’s mine, not theirs. I have exclusive rights to use and disposition of it. This is not so for software, or music. It’s one of the reasons I’ll never purchase music online, because I don’t want my library to vanish at the push of a button.

    So what’s the difference that makes the difference, between complete copying, and ‘lending’/ car-pooling? The difference, at least to me, seems to be some kind of ‘fair use’ doctrine. Companies understand that word of mouth drums up business, and there is an obvious impracticality with ensuring that only people who purchase a car travel in it (goodbye taxi industry). Same goes for lending your video games or music to friends who are using it on a ‘try before they buy’ basis, or for renting. The loan is temporary, and the supply is still controlled by the manufacturer.

    Copying and distributing changes all that. The manufacturer (who has sunk a significant amount of capital into their product) is having to face the reality of their role as the sole manufacturer being usurped. Their moral objection is to losing the fruits of their labour that they otherwise would have had, if not for someone else providing their product for free to others (or profiting from it themselves).

    It’s not that waving a magic wand to copy my neighbour’s car harms my neighbour in any way, except perhaps in his/her need to feel superior to others via his purchases, but that it does moral and financial harm to the copyright holder in that the fruits of their labour have been taken from them. I get to enjoy the final product of their idea without compensating them for the time it took to bring it into creation, which I otherwise would have had to do, if not for my magic wand.

    This seems to me to hold true for any physical object. The only reason it seems we feel somewhat differently about software copying is that by its almost ethereal nature, it’s closer to the concept of an ‘idea’ than a ‘thing’ to be exclusively owned and operated, like my fridge or my pencil. The company doesn’t have a moral objection to my distribution of pencils (that’s just competition at work). Their objection is to my distribution of their-idea-made-manifest-type of pencil. So long as we buy into John Locke’s justification of property in a capitalistic system (which I don’t, because he’s begging the question), it seems to me that piracy is a form of theft of ideas-made-manifest, justified by foregone sales lost within a capitalistic system.

    If scarcity wasn’t a problem (even a manufactured problem) then piracy would not be a moral issue. It would just be ‘production’.

    Having said *all* that, I’m a hypocrite. I haven’t paid for music in 13 years – and I probably never will. But I don’t pretend I’m being amoral or righteous when I do it.

    TLDR: piracy is immoral because John Locke and capitalism. But wouldn’t be otherwise.


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