Software piracy; morals; free software

Tuesday, 14 Dec 2004

So here are some thoughts on my… “software ethics” that have been on my mind on occasion, when interacting on IRC or mailing lists.

To put the important point up front: I have no intentions of casting myself a pure and holy moral being. I have morals and follow them, but not as unyielding rules. Rather, they are a framework of guidelines to be considered strongly and not broken lightheartedly.

I am not going to bedevil anyone who pirates software for own use but generally tries to avoid it. And with the current state of the libre software world, the deep penetration of highspeed internet access, and the synergies between these, there are very few cases left where commercial software with a price tag far beyond your pain threshold is the only option.

Is money all of it? Am I a freeloader?

No and no, actually.

I personally find it immoral to charge for things that are as essential to the use of a computer productively as air to breathe is to living.

This isn’t just empty words: I give a lot of my work away for free and spend a lot of time helping people, for no tangible reward in return. I practice what I believe in. I share, because it’s the right thing to do. Who am I to demand reward for something I am only capable of because so many others before me have laid the foundations I can build on?

That doesn’t mean I pirate things left and right anyway. I do my utmost to respect the will of others with regard to their work, however justified or not it may be by my standards. Even in those times where I did use pirated software, it wasn’t much, and I was always on the lookout for alternatives that would allow me to accomplish the tasks at hand without breaking licenses. I never liked pirating software, and always felt a twinge of guilt for it.

But I will never need to do it again, ever, anyway. For me, this is the most liberating aspect of the libre software world. I haven’t seen a warez page in my browser in years. I haven’t needed to go through all the trouble that pirating software is – obviously a consequence of its legal status – in years. And my conscience is calm and content.

Now, though I might not ride the moral high horse if someone goes looking for pirated software, when they start selling it, we’re on a different page entirely. And hoo boy what a page. They are doing this on purpose; there’s no trying to avoid at all. Worse, not only is there no attempt to avoid – these people actually turn around and do the same immoral thing of charging for software themselves! It simply is wrong on every level to sell discs full of pirated stuff for a profit. It cannot be reconciled with any sort of morals, however soft and yielding. You have to have no morals at all to do this.

You’re just a leech, plain and simple.