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Fred's Views

In recent months, copyright has been in the public eye, with the Napster court cases. Pirating has always been a concern for creators and publishers of intellectual properties. So why do people choose to break the law and pirate software, instead of buying a legal copy?

I'm only speculating, of course, but I think it's fairly obvious that people pirate software for a number of reasons, some valid (to some extent) and some not. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why I think people pirate software.

To date, most publishers have attacked piracy by making it more difficult. The problem with using technology to prevent piracy is that the dangerous pirates know as much about technology as the publishers and can usually find a way around it. And just as important, most anti-piracy schemes end up just irritating paying customers and making their use of the software far less convenient. Publishers have paid lip service to education, but more could be done in this area.

Can piracy be stopped? Probably not completely. The thrill seekers and the uneducated and those who just don't care about right and wrong will always be among us. Some of them can be converted, or convinced to go elsewhere for their thrills, but not all. However, there is a lot that publishers can do, right now, that would reduce piracy and restore customer good faith and loyalty. This is true not only for software piracy, but piracy in general. Here are my suggestions:

Publishers must take more responsibility for the problem of piracy. The problem exists because the publishers have perpetuated an environment that promotes dishonesty, including the large profits that some publishers, such as Microsoft, enjoy. Would publishers lose substantial profits by following these recommendations? Perhaps, for a short while. But if the software is priced right, if it offers value for the price and a reason for buying the original product, and if it has a liberal licensing program, the public can be educated to understand that we all can benefit by eradicating piracy.

(Although I have used Microsoft as an example for much of this article, I certainly do not mean to imply that Microsoft is the only company to benefit by improving its act. Microsoft is, however, in a unique position. Having a virtual (if not total) monopoly on the operating system, it has complete control over this essential piece of software. Until someone builds an operating system that will run Windows applications better than Windows does itself, I fear Microsoft alone can address piracy issues around operating system software. Every publisher of software has a responsibility and an opportunity to address the issue. Once again, however, Microsoft comes to the fore since it is unequivocally financially able to act while some other publishers may not be.

Copyright © 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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