Is it software sharing or piracy? The debate rages on, with some Canadian commentators taking a very different stance from the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST).
CAAST is a coalition of software industry companies battling software piracy.
The latest controversy relates to a recent random survey of 1,756 Canadians with access to a computer and the Internet.
Half of those polled by Ottawa-based research firm Decima Research Inc. believe software pirating for personal use is acceptable.
On the other hand, three quarters of the respondents said they “would have issues working for a company that uses illegal copies of software.” This marks a 71 per cent increase from a previous survey in 2003.
CAAST sees this attitude (of condoning software piracy on a personal level, while opposing it at the corporate level) as unacceptable.
“The survey shows double standards continue to plague personal and corporate ethics,” a CAAST press release said.
“It is disappointing Canadians do not have the same standards for themselves that they have for corporations,” said Jacqui Famulak, president of CAAST. But she added the survey results also suggest “software piracy within the workplace is no longer acceptable to Canadians.”
At least two Canadian academicians, however have a different take on the results of the poll.
“People are sending out a message to software companies that they are charging private users a very high price for their product,” said Elijah Dann, an instructor in the departments of philosophy at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo. “People will be willing to pay if they see that the moral playing field is level.”
Dann sees a concerted effort on the part of software vendors to depict file sharing as an immoral act. “It’s as if they are trying to instill in the public mind that it is immoral to share software. For instance, they use the word ‘piracy’ which in itself is a loaded term.”
Brian Earn, director of the Centre for Studies in Leadership at the Guelph University, suggests that the perception of crime may have something to do with the “purpose or outcome” of the copying.
“If a person is copying software for personal and not for profit, that person might not see it as a crime. A company using copied software can be seen as making a profit from the practice or an organization can be selling copied software for profit.”
The CAAST survey said 88 per cent of the respondents acknowledge “there is something wrong with illegally copying software” but only a quarter views it as a serious offence.
Software piracy also ranked near the bottom of the list of perceived serious offences at 25 per cent along followed by copying a DVD or downloading music which was listed at 23 per cent.
Falsifying a resume ranked highest at 46 per cent followed by stealing office supplies from work which ranked at 37 per cent.
Interestingly 78 per cent of the Ontario respondents believed it was wrong for companies to copy software, while only 68 per cent of people from Quebec deemed it questionable.
Dann said a culture steeped in a “deeper history of solidarity with social services” in Quebec may account for this.
Fifty-seven per cent of the respondents said the company CEO or president should be accountable for proper software use, 57 per cent said the IT manager should be held responsible, 40 per cent listed employees, and 39 per cent laid the onus on chief information officers.
Fifty two per cent said they would report software piracy out of “a sense of ethics and moral responsibility” as opposed to 16 per cent who said they would not report the act.
Earn said copying software is a publicly acknowledged practice much like activities such as crossing the border with slightly more than the allowable duty free goods. “It’s a public thing. People probably say if you’re not making any profit from it, it’s not a crime.”
Dann echoes this view. “On a private level,” he says, “the public simply doesn’t see the weight of the software makers’ argument that it’s illegal to share software.”
He also said software companies are using planned obsolescence to trap consumers into a purchasing cycle. “Software companies do not admit that they a creating a web of consumerism that’s hooking the public in a never ending cycle of buying products that have to be periodically updated.”
On the public’s willingness to pay for software, Dann used the example of successful for-profit music file sharing ventures such as iTune. The proprietary digital media player application introduced by Apple Computer, allows users to download music from iTune Stores for 99 cents a song.
His conclusion: software companies are charging too much. “People will be willing to pay if the price is right and the playing field is level.”
Dann said software vendors could probably explore using an iTunes-like model to sell their products. “How much of an effort would it be sell a toned down version of expensive software or make features available separately and at a lower price.”
Instead, he said, software makers are selling “clunky and frustrating stripped down” versions of their flag ship products.