The Ethics of Piracy

The software pirates and those trying to protect software copyrights approach the ethics of piracy from two different viewpoints. There are two contrasting ethical views on the issue of piracy, and both have their valid points.

Piracy is Ethical

Some think that there is nothing wrong with software piracy. They believe in the freedom of information and expression (ie. "information wants to be free"). According to them, it is acceptable and ethical to copy the software because they have a right to the information contained in the software. They also hold the idea of that reproduction and distribution of software a part of fair use within copyright law.

Some pirates have cited their first amendment rights as an excuse for piracy. They claim that since posting information in electronic form is protected by the first amendment, the distribution of illegal software is an exercise of the rights of self-expression and should not be infringed upon.

Some think that software piracy doesn't hurt anyone, that it is a victimless crime. They believe that, with the rising prices of software, software manufacturers are really not hurt by pirates making illegal copies of their programs. They think since they are not going to pay for the software anyway, it is OK to get it free.

Another common excuse runs along the lines of "the software is really not worth the money they're charging anyway." The argument continues that since the software is buggy, it's really not a crime to distribute faulty products.

Finally, some claim that they're simply "testing" the software. "If I really like it, I'll pay for it," runs the common excuse, "but this program just sits on my hard drive and I almost never use it."

Piracy is Unethical

This view holds that piracy is really not a victimless crime. Due to software piracy, the industry has seen some 12 billion dollars and over 100,000 jobs lost. The attraction of piracy is due to its anonymity and the ease with which illegal copies of software can be made and distributed. However, every person who makes illegal copies is contributing to the monetary losses caused by piracy.

Information really does not "want to be free." People who write the software have rights to profit from it, just as people who write books have the sole right to sell them. Copying software is depriving the rightful owners of software of hard-earned wages.

Software piracy cannot be protected by the first amendment, because the first amendment does not cover illegal activities. Just as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is not protected by the first amendment, neither is the distribution of illegal software.

The claim that pirates have a right to make illegal copies of software because the software is buggy, or too expensive, or not frequently used by the pirate, is also flawed. Someone might think a Rolls-Royce is too expensive and not worth the money, but this doesn't give him the right to steal it. Or, the fact that you almost never watch television doesn't give you the right to steal a TV.

Pirating software costs everyone. Since not as many copies of software are sold, the software manufacturers have to raise prices. This means that the legitimate users are incurring higher costs due to piracy.

In short, piracy is not as "victimless" a crime as it may seem. Software developers, distributors, and, ultimately, end users, are all hurt by piracy.