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Piracy Thoughts05:41 PM -- Wed January 16, 2008

As someone who pays the mortgage by selling digital creations, piracy is something I need to think about at times. Mostly, I ignore it, as my philosophy is that it's more important to do good things to the people who pay me money than it is to do bad things to the ones who don't (as in, I don't use nasty copy-protection systems because they are a royal pain for the legitimate purchaser, and nothing more than a bit o' fun for the hacker). As the internet expands, and people become more computer-savvy, piracy is only getting worse. I'm in favor of more knowledge, I just wish it came with scruples. It makes me very angry how zero-priority this enormous, massively income-destroying, issue is with politicians and the media. If they talked about it, people might actually find out that it's illegal and immoral. I honestly believe that a very large percentage of the human race really thinks there's nothing wrong with it. They don't even know that it's illegal! And then we've got people like the RIAA on "our side", which just makes people want to pirate more (hard to blame them on that one).

So in general, these things kind of devolve into a big argument between two sides that will never agree on even the tiniest point. It's all totally pointless. So let me throw down something I came up with to continue the pointlessness. If you wish to argue this in the comments, enjoy, because I'm not going to argue back. I just want to put this theory out there because it occurred to me one day on the toilet, where many things occur to me, and I realized I'd never heard it expressed by anyone before. Here it goes:

One of the arguments that pirates use is that it's nothing like stealing. When you steal, you deprive someone of something in addition to enriching yourself. There's a victim, who either must replace the lost item, deal with insurance, or suffer whatever detriment they face by not having it. This, however, is not a valid argument. They don't agree that you are depriving the creator of profit, usually because "hey, I wasn't gonna buy it anyway!" I realize copyright infringement isn't theft under any legal system in the world, it's a different crime. But it is almost exactly the same as one type of theft, and I never hear this said.

Think of shoplifting. When you take an iPod from a store without paying for it, what has happened? The store did not lose the use of the iPod - they never used it in the first place. It was just one item sitting on the shelf among many other iPods. Does the store have to replace the missing iPod? Not really. There are dozens more on the shelf, and another hundred in the back room. When those run out, they call up Apple and order a hundred more, at wholesale prices. As far as anyone can reasonably consider it, there is an unlimited supply of iPods in the world. Yes, they do take resources to make, so there is a limit, but that limit is so astronomical that we could give iPods to everyone on Earth, and other than Apple suffering a massive monetary loss, there'd be virtually no impact to our planet at all. As far as the store is concerned, an iPod is just a line item on a database of what they sell. It's just a teeny tiny factor in their quarterly profit/loss statement.

So what did the store lose when you walked out with their iPod? Potential profit. All stores factor a certain amount of shoplifting into their prices, and they really are not fazed when it happens. You haven't taken anything from them but an infinitesimal bit of a percentage point off of their profits.

In fact, there's a very clear case for the fact that shoplifting something, even a huge-ticket item like a riding lawnmower (fit that under your sweater!), from Wal-Mart is going to impact them to a massively smaller degree than pirating one copy of my game from me. A quick Google shows me $11B in yearly profit at Wal-Mart. If you take an iPod that they could've made $100 profit on, you have dropped their income by ... well, the calculator is giving it to me in scientific notation, so I have to translate it... hmm. Math is hard. 0.000000009%, I think (9.09x10^-9). I may be off by a factor of ten, but obviously it doesn't matter. Steal a $29.95 game called Supreme With Cheese from me (how could you?!), and you would drop my income by around 0.001%. That sounds very low I imagine, but that's just one theft in an entire year, and obviously lots of people are doing it. Compare it to Wal-Mart and you find that it hurts me about 100,000 times more than your much bigger (and 'real') theft from Wal-Mart did.

So the thrust of the point I'm making is that shoplifting is effectively exactly the same as software piracy. You're not really depriving anyone of anything, you're just cutting into their profit. There is a tangible difference, but it's so minute as to be meaningless. The supply of goods to a retail store is effectively just as limitless as the supply of digital bits when you copy software. And since shoplifting is theft, it is fair to say the difference between software piracy and theft is so minute as to be meaningless.

Anyway, you'll definitely be seeing "internet-enabled" games from me in the eventual future. Not necessarily ones you play over the internet, but ones that hook into the internet for a lot of things - chatting, saving your character (that'll be nice - download the game and play it anywhere with your same character, never lose it), trading items with others, downloading new levels, and so on. When a game requires stuff from the internet to run, it can't be pirated in any reasonable fashion. And that's what the pirates have driven us all to. On the plus side, those are awesome and fun features. On the minus side, you won't be able to play the game when offline, and if the company that made it disappears, the game is dead. Kind of ironic, really - because the pirates insist that digital goods aren't real and tangible and can't be owned, they've forced developers to actually make them less tangible. Eventually, every game will be a service rather than a product. When the service goes down, the money you spent on the game is gone.

And just for the record, Hamumu Software will be around FOREVER!!!
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