Piracy will always occur until attitudes and service improve

In modern terms Piracy is the act of obtaining something while not paying for it. This is usually content that can be distributed digitally such as software and with the birth of the internet this allows anyone at any time to obtain those goods. But wait, isn’t that a good thing? Anyone, anywhere in the entire world being able to get a copy of your software? Of course this needs to be limited to paying consumers but what if the pirates provide a better service than the commercial entity that owns the content? If the distribution network and infrastructure is there why the hell not use it to distribute your digital goods?

What exactly is the problem?

The problem is access. When a new piece of software is released, which could be in the form of an application or computer game, people want access to it immediately and why not? It’s not unreasonable to think fans of a particular brand want the latest and greatest immediately on release. It is after all just a download away but what if it’s only available from pirates because the content owner delays, refuses to distribute it digitally or makes it inconvenient to use the software legitimately. What do you think is going to happen?1

A lot of company directors tend to think that piracy is rampant because consumers just don’t want to pay for these goods. This is false! I was reading an article about a guy living in rural India who wanted to purchase educational software but he couldn’t find a legitimate outlet. He was of course connected to the internet and downloaded it illegally from a pirate. It’s totally unacceptable for companies to continue to site piracy as a big issue for their business model or revenue stream while they make hardly any effort to make it easy for people to buy their software. What’s more bizarre is that many companies don’t allow their software to be bought over the internet at all!

From what I have deduced over the years of being a software developer, and from reading online articles and talking to others is that cost is also not such a big issue when consumers decide to purchase a piece of software, the value it delivers is considered first. Some software especially computer games are priced a little on the steep side especially while considering all could be delivered digitally but pricing is a moot point if your consumers can not find an easy way of purchasing it.

Software piracy can never be stopped

Understand this now, no software, no matter how advanced, can ever, and I really do meanever, be fully protected to stop illegal copying. Yes there are methods to make it more difficult for pirates to crack a particular program but all software can be cracked. Once this is understood people finally recognize that something else is needed to ensure consumers actually purchase software instead of getting it for nothing from pirates.

Anti-piracy measures only affect legitimate consumers

The problem with all current ways of trying to stop illegal copying is that it only affects legitimate consumers. In pirated copies it has always been completely removed. In this case pirates are providing more value to the consumer by removing any inconvenience that legitimate consumers have to deal with. All techniques currently used to try and make copying harder include:

What if you lose the serial code? What if you lose the dongle? What if your computer wasn’t connected to the internet? What if the authentication server has gone offline? What if you wanted to use your DVD drive while using the software? All major inconveniences!

What software companies also tend to forget is that only one copy of their software needs to be cracked in order for the entire population of Earth to get it for free. If you have thousands of pirates in every country working to crack the software, how long do you think the protection will last? Most software pirate groups pride themselves on cracking a software product before or on the day of its retail release. It simply doesn’t work to try and combat these attacks. A completely different mindset is required.

So what’s the solution

Well first of all, stop treating consumers as criminals by default. The very act of adding copy protection to any software is like saying “legitimate users of this software are also criminals.” This assumption is wrong and lumps law abiding consumers with the law breakers by default. What needs to happen is for companies to allow consumers easy access to their software at a reasonable price. That’s it, simple. If it’s easier to get hold of a legitimate copy than a pirated copy then you’ve won!

Some companies are starting to see the light and are removing copy protection and trusting their consumers again. Companies such as Apple recently removed all copy protection from their entire music catalog on iTunes. Because when people wanted to move their paid for collection of songs to another platform or device they couldn’t because of the copy protection so they just downloaded pirate copies which don’t have this major inconvenience. Apple’s move now means it’s easier to use them for all music downloads, cutting pirates out of the loop completely.

Another fine example is Good Old Games. This is a company dedicated to distributing computer games at fair prices and with no copy protection within them. They make the valid argument that all games are pirated so why bother including the copy protection? Beat the pirates at their own game and make it easy for consumers to pay for and acquire software they want, when they want.

Finally, here’s a quote from the founder and managing director of Valve after many years of analyzing the computer game market through their digital distribution service Steam.

One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates. For example, Russia. You say, oh, we’re going to enter Russia, people say, you’re doomed, they’ll pirate everything in Russia. Russia now outside of Germany is our largest continental European market. – Gabe Newell