Software Piracy Is Not Theft

In The Escapist’s Casual Friday came the article So What’s It Worth To You. I agree with the main point. Voting with your dollars is important. When you pirate a good game, you basically send the message that the game wasn’t worth paying for and so more good games won’t get made. I appreciate Blancato pointing out that major piracy that involves companies trying to make a quick buck are the major problem, not necessarily Joe Schmoe Gamer who got a copy from his friend. I also like how Blancato mentioned that draconian anti-piracy measures will turn off paying customers. After all, if you pay for something and have to jump through hoops to play it, but the person who pirates a copy gets to just play it sans hoops, isn’t there something wrong?

All well and good, but I am still getting pretty upset that people will equate software piracy with theft. The two are not the same. Even the courts say that they are not the same. The only ones who claim they are the same are the companies who gain an advantage in making you think that copyright infringement is the same as theft. Oh, and the people who hear this kind of thinking and start to think that way as well.

One problem is that people like to make analogies with things that just aren’t like software. People compare software to cars. If I take a car, that’s theft, so why isn’t it theft when I “take software”?

It’s because you aren’t preventing someone else from “taking” software. When I take a car, there is one less car for the car dealership to sell. That’s actually stealing something. When I “take” a game, it’s theft if I literally steal the box from the retail shelf. If I instead make a copy of a CD from a friend, I didn’t steal anything, and no court will ever allow the prosecution to claim it was an actual theft. When someone makes a copy of a game or music CD, it’s illegal because of a violation of copyright. It’s an infringement on the copyright holder’s rights. Of course, if the ESA, MPAA, and RIAA all complained about the “rise in copyright infringement” it wouldn’t invoke as much feeling as “they are stealing from us!”

Software piracy isn’t as cut and dry as some would have you believe. The way some people argue it, when someone pirates a copy of a game or movie or music, it directly equates to lost revenue. It would be true if every pirated copy would be paid for by the infringer, but in reality, come on! Let’s ignore the real criminals who make many copies for the purpose of selling them since they are clearly a separate case. Let’s focus on the casual pirate. He/she might make copies of every game simply because he/she likes the idea of collecting all these games. Take away the possibility of pirating those games, and I really don’t think this pirate will have the ability to pay for it all. This pirate will just not collect as much. Pirated copies of games like Catwoman wouldn’t magically turn into revenue, I’m sure.

I’ve yet to see a real study on this issue, but I wonder just how many of these non-professional pirates would be forced to buy a game that he/she couldn’t pirate. I think that most people would just not play the game, but that’s just my hunch.

Still, you can’t say “theft” and mean “software piracy”. Yes, software piracy is serious. Yes, it can mean that a developer might make less revenue. I do not deny that it can have very real effects. But let’s call it what it is and stop trying to manipulate people. We’re grown ups now. We can handle the truth. Software piracy is copyright infringement, but it is not theft.