Curbing Piracy


Like most scurvy internet thieves, there was a time when I gave no thought to pirating software. I won't go into specifics, but if it was popular at all, there's a decent chance I got my grubby little hands on it - with the exception of most music, movies and games of course (there are only so many hours in the day).

Did this register as an immoral action, something to stop? Did I see myself as hurting developers or publishers who had invested in the product? Well, yes, but not so much that it wasn't very easily justifiable. And in fact, it isn't quite the same as stealing - it's copyright infringement. There is a difference, and it's not as subtle as many of the big content producers would like you to believe.

Over the years I grew to resent software vendors who packaged their products with DRM. I'm not alone in this, as you're probably aware. It didn't bother me as an alleged pirate, of course; most games came cracked, or came with a crack, or were quite easily cracked separately if you knew where to find the software to do so. I still hold that DRM only hurts legitimate consumers, and it pisses me off on principle that they treat all their customers like criminals to begin with (more on that dissonance later).

I'm also quite annoyed by the licensing terms forced upon those who purchase almost any bit of proprietary software. More often than not, you're not the legal owner of what you're paying for, so much as someone that's leasing it with the vendor's permission. It is, in my opinion, fraudulent that they market these games as "for sale" when they actually aren't.

So you can see now just how easy it is to build a case against any software or media vendor, to overcome that niggling little doubt in your mind and say "fuck 'em, they don't deserve my money but I do deserve their game." Which is, of course, completely ridiculous.

I'm bringing this up because earlier this evening I read a story on slashdot about CD Projekt (that's how they're spelling it) slapping a fine on those who infringe upon their intellectual property by torrenting their game, The Witcher 2. For those of you that aren't as in love with this company as I am, it should be mentioned that these are the people behind, a veritable haven for older (though sometimes not so much older) PC games. They tweak the games to work on modern OSes, remove all DRM, give you everything, and add some extras on top. All for either $9.99 or $5.99, depending on the game. Recent releases include Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment.

This is a company that's gone through great pains to bring customers a perfectly reasonable gaming experience. How often did you used to say to yourself "I wouldn't pirate this if I could afford it?" That was never a valid excuse so much as an inflated sense of entitlement speaking up, of course, but now one can't even pretend that that's a reasonable argument. If $6 or $10 is too much for you, it's time to find a new hobby.

Not only that, they show that they respect their customers and have a decent grasp on the concept of preserving the value of a product. By removing all forms of DRM (no CD-Keys, no internet connectivity required once you've downloaded it, no special "download client" required, etc.), they're treating you like a customer rather than a criminal, and they're ensuring that those games will remain fully functional ten or fifteen years down the line.

Why am I talking about CD Projekt? Because there are people out there who are upset by the fact that CDP is slapping fines on people who pirate their games. To this, I have to wonder: Why? They aren't demanding huge, unreasonable amounts (no "$10,000 per song" bullshit here), and they do have a legitimate claim to the content, something I'm not quite so sure about when it comes to the RIAA.

If you don't want to pay for the game, don't buy it. However, your inability to afford something doesn't grant you exemption from liability for infringing its copyright. You are not entitled to their content unless you pay for it, plain and simple. It sucks not being able to afford things (trust me, I know), but you're only showing yourself to be morally callow when you pirate their shit, as did I when I used to do the same.

I can understand thinking you need something, but nowadays, there isn't much excuse. I can write a lot about open-source ideology, but I'll save most of that for later and simply say this: Why pirate Photoshop when the Gimp is free? If you don't need Photoshop's more advanced features (for example, its 8 bits of color reserved for alpha channels that the Gimp lacks, not that 99.999999% of PS users would ever know), then you don't need to pirate it. If you do, then it's because you're a professional graphics designer for whom the product, while not trivially inexpensive, is worth the money.

Proprietary software certainly has its place, but let's look at some of the benefits of F/LOSS (Free, Libre Open Source Software).

1) When you get it, you own it. In this case, I'm mostly speaking of the open-source aspect specifically, as there does exist open-source software that's still proprietary and costs money. Nonetheless, being open source, you own it. There are no bullshit licenses that keep you leashed and artificially walled off from the software resting on your hard drive. If you want, you can even modify it (thus the term "open source"... the source code is open). Most often, you're also perfectly free to redistribute it once you've done so - the only rub comes when you try selling it after doing so. Some licenses take issue with that, others don't. I won't get into that here.

2) Most "consumer-grade" F/LOSS is free in both senses of the word... free as in beer, and free as in speech. Some of it isn't as great as it could be, but most of it is. The only areas that are hurting are specialty software, but every day, those are still getting better and better. Photo editing? Gimp. Office software? OpenOffice / LibreOffice, or Abiword. Music players, media players, video editors (non-professional, though alledgedly that is on the way soon too), you name it.

3) Due to its open-source nature, most bits of F/LOSS have a much longer "shelf-life" than their proprietary cousins. As previously mentioned, once you get the software, it's yours forever. You'll never need to worry about licensing, even if you're a business. You'll never need to worry about registration numbers. You'll never need to "activate" it. If I wanted to, assuming the hardware was compatible, I could install a linux distro released in 2005 on a computer I buy twenty years from now. Good luck trying that with XP, or any flavor of Windows that currently exists, for that matter.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that there are only two things I miss about using Windows: Cool new games, and the Zune software. Fuck, I miss the Zune software so much. I'd kill a man for them to port it to linux.

And let's not kid ourselves, PC gaming has a somewhat bleak future anyway. The games themselves are hardly a trickle of what they used to be, and what few games that are still being released are crippled with just about every form of DRM in the book. Hell, we might only be getting Indie games or very small-time releases in the future, and Linux gets most of those anyway.

There are no longer any half-reasonable excuses to continue pirating software. Only ignorance, and a disproportionately large sense of entitlement. It took me a little time hooked into GNU/Linux to see the error of my ways, but I'd recommend that any soul who's bored enough to still be reading this pause for a few moments and reflect. Do you wish to continue supporting ever-increasingly restrictive "copy-protection"? Even if you don't pay cash money for a game, you're supporting the vendor in a way just by using their software. Don't do it.