On Piracy

On Piracy.

Many people who use pirated products justify it by claiming they're only stealing from rich mega-corporations that screw their customers, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that the people who are hurt the most by piracy are people like me.

Shareware developers are losing enormous amounts of money to piracy, and we're mostly helpless to do anything about it. We can't afford to sue everyone who steals from us, let alone track down people in countries such as Russia who host web sites offering pirated versions of our work. If you visit a few public “warez” sites, you're unlikely to find software from companies such as Microsoft who can afford to prosecute pirates – instead you'll find hundreds of shareware products written by people like me.

Some would argue that we should just accept piracy as part of the job, but chances are the people who say this aren't aware of how widespread piracy really is. A quick look at my web server logs would be enough to startle most people, since the top referrers are invariably warez sites that link to my site (yes, not only do they steal my software, but they also suck my bandwidth).

A couple of years ago I wanted to get an idea of how many people were using pirated versions of TopStyle, so I signed up for an anonymous email account (using a “kewl” nickname, of course) and started hanging out in cracker forums. After proving my cracker creds, I created a supposedly cracked version of TopStyle and arranged to have it listed on a popular warez site.

This cracked version pinged home the first time it was run, providing a way for me to find out how many people were using it. To my dismay, in just a few weeks more people had used this cracked version than had ever purchased it. I knew piracy was rampant, but I didn't realize how widespread it was until this test.

(As an aside, the only thing that prevented me from having this fake cracked version erase the user's hard drive was a sense of ethics – the same thing that's apparently missing from those who steal my software. This does illustrate, though, that you never know what you're getting when you download warez. Folks, if you're downloading pirated software, you're trusting EXEs hosted by people who brag about being criminals!)

Software crackers should be listed alongside spammers, virus writers and script kiddies as scourges of the Internet, because they make software more expensive and more invasive. Trust me: shareware developers such as myself really don't want to resort to things like software activation since it adds to our already oversized workload, but when we see thousands of people stealing from us, we're willing to do pretty much anything (wouldn't you?).  [Nick Bradbury]

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