Going beyond piracy platitudes

There’s a danger in championing a right and just cause.

Although you may end up doing the right thing, it can be for the wrong reasons. Take, for example, the coverage given these days to the state of software piracy in Canada. We’re told, by the likes of IDC and other IT market watchers, that such activity results in billions of dollars worth of lost software sales. And, in Canada, piracy is a growing concern, having increased a full percentage point between 2003 and 2004, according to IDC.

As a user, should I care about that?

Let’s be clear. Piracy is not to be advocated. It’s wrong.

But in trumpeting the cause as editorial folk, we sometimes make the mistake of too strongly advocating an IT vendor cause rather than digging deeper under the covers of an important issue. So to some readers, by citing the voices of representatives from major software companies in Canada in suggesting piracy is an important issue to them, it may appear that we are serving a rather selfish interest. Are we really saying something intelligent about the piracy problem itself? Should we not be analyzing why it still exists and is growing, or investigate why attitudes towards software piracy don’t seem to be changing much?

That vendors suggest they lose billions of dollars as a result of piracy is certainly debatable and should definitely be much less a concern to you the reader than the risks of using pirated software. Who’s apt to feel much empathy for software companies that already earn multiple millions, but are not getting every penny they probably should?

So when Ipsos Reid reports that, in a survey of 855 small businesses, 91 per cent of those companies agree that software piracy is unethical, but that only 54 per cent of that same group says they regularly check the authenticity of the software they use, what are we to consider?

For one thing, clearly the problem goes a whole lot deeper than the millions of dollars lost to software vendors. Could the problem have something to do with complex licensing agreements used by application providers, making it difficult for business to be legal when it comes to the software they use? They may not even know they’re doing something illegal.

Maybe vendors should figure out an absolutely foolproof way to ensure software can’t be pirated. Why should I as a user or a business have to worry about this? Maybe businesses themselves feel like they have more important things to do.

Focusing on the fact that software piracy results in billions of lost dollars “to the economy” is a message that, to the typical business enterprise and end user, probably doesn’t mean much of anything. From that perspective, why should they care? Evangelizing why software should be legal is a message that has already stuck with most of those who are apt to be honest and won’t matter to those who are less than honest.

Better that vendors fix it so you can’t pirate software rather than pleading with end users to do the right thing — and complain that they’re losing millions of dollars.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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