A VIEW ON PIRACY by Piper
Life, Death and the Open Seas
Hi there! I'm a criminal. No, you won't find me in the FBI's
most wanted list, and it's very unlikely I'll appear on the
evening news, but nonetheless, I'm a criminal. And so, in all
probability, are you.
Go and take a peek through your software collection: Now, just
between you and me, is there anything there that you didn't
actually buy legally, maybe a game you copied from a friend, or a
copy of something you later gave away or even sold? There is?
Guess what, you're a criminal too.
People who make illegal copies of software are called Pirates,
a rather grand and romantic term for a thief. Pirates have been
getting a fair bit of press recently since the police are just
starting to take the crime vaguely seriously. They can be
categorised into two types: First there's the most common sort,
like me. My partner and I got a program called the Virus
Destruction Utility from our beloved former editor Richard. This
we were meant to try to sell to a major distributor in England.
To do this, both myself and my partner needed to know what the
program did, so I made a copy of it and took it home to try it
out (it's an excellent program, by the way). This copy is still
sitting in my collection. This means that Richard, who put a lot
of time and effort into writing the program, has received
absolutely nothing from me, and I have a working copy of a useful
program (at least until Richard reads this and comes round to see
me, waving a large blunt object).
This may not seem like much, but try multiplying the figures a
bit and see what the writer loses. If everyone who has the
program lets "just one" other person have a copy, your sales are
instantly halved. If the chain continues, then sales dwindle
rapidly away into the sunset. And this is only the "nice" side of
The second type is altogether more noticeable and is much
easier to call by nasty names. This particular brand of Buccaneer
takes the program and the packaging and copies them both, as
cheaply as possible, then sells them for his own profit, never
giving anything to the original manufacturer. Recently, I was
able to buy a copy of Timeworks Desk Top Publisher for 25 Dutch
guilders (around £7) complete with an A4 sized photocopy of the
manual (needless to say, that particular piece of sea slime is
currently scraping barnacles off of the inside of a prison cell.
Unfortunately, not for very long). Copies of the program
Federation of Free Traders have been on sale for over two months;
at the time of writing, it hasn't even been released yet.
Fortunately for Gremlin, who make the game, the pirates stole a
demo copy, which had been prepared for the PCW Show in London and
contained only about 50% of the final features, so anyone with a
pirated copy is still going to have to get a new one when it
comes out, so there!
So what? Why should we worry if we can get software cheaper by
buying it from a pirate? Glad you asked. Buying pirated software
is a short-term gain for both the buyer and the seller. The
pirate is not particularly likely to give you software support,
after-sales service and the like, so you miss out on the benefits
of being a registered user, things like up-dates and help lines.
That, however, is no big loss if all you're buying is a game. To
see where the problems lie with that, you need to employ a little
bit of the grey stuff that you keep to hold your ears apart.
Companies producing software do not do it simply because they
like the fame and glory of seeing their names printed in reviews.
They need to make a profit. They have to pay for their offices,
their staff, advertising and all the boring little things that
help make bankruptcy the popular pastime it is today. But that's
their problem. Until, of course, they can't make a profit
anymore. Then they have to either stop producing software, not
very good for us since we then have less new products to choose
from, or they have to put up their prices, which again is not
going to make us very happy. Price increases will make the pirate
seem like an even more attractive proposition, so once the
company gets caught in this spiral, it will eventually have to
close down; no more software for the pirate, no more software for
us. The ST can go sit on top of a cupboard for the rest of its
life. This is the long-term effect of the short-term profit, kind
of like chopping down all the trees to make money on wood, and
forgetting that we might need to breath sometime as well.
Another effect can be seen in the Netherlands at the moment: At
least one major distributor and one major retail chain is
thinking of dropping ST software from its list of products. This
is because, in a country with the highest number of Atari's per
capita in the world, with at least 50,000 1040's sold via Atari
Benelux alone, a software product is lucky to sell as many as
100. Both the distributor and the retail chain blame this on
piracy sucking away the retail sales to the point where it is no
longer profitable to stock the titles.
The effect on the producers is varied: GST Software, producers
of First Word and its brethren, say that piracy doesn't seem to
be affecting their sales to any significant degree, whereas, as
revealed in last issue's Do you know that..., Jez San said that
he thought his effort on Starglider II was a waste of time, and
he was not sure if he would again bother writing for the ST since
piracy was such a major force in the market, and Word Perfect,
who could be one of the best companies to make the ST
"respectable" in the States, also almost gave it up for the same
reason. If we lose programmers of this calibre, and companies
with this amount of prestige, we lose much of the driving force
of the industry.
Solutions? Well, it might be that one way around it would be to
make the software cheaper, making pirates less attractive. This
is definitely worth a try, and I would encourage all software
houses to make the attempt, since, in my view, £25 or 95 Dutch
guilders is rather excessive for a few hours entertainment, and
some of the prices for serious software are seriously
exaggerated, but in England there has been a thriving mail-order
industry for years which sells the products for approximately two
thirds of its retail value. The Netherlands, too have begun to
move in this direction with the founding of such companies as
Cuddly Cactus International to bring prices to a more reasonable
level, and still the problem remains. The only real solution lies
with us, the bunch of felons who allow it to happen.
Over the next few months, I'll be trying to get some
information on just what happened to the the Glasgow pirates in
the FAST raids, as well as the details of raids by the Stichting
Software Protection in the Netherlands. But that's not enough. We
need YOU to tell us what's going on. If you disagree with this
article, please write and tell us so. If you're a pirate and want
to make a case for yourself, write. If you can see any solutions
to the problem of piracy, tell us about it, and if you don't
think there even is a problem, let us know that as well. Our
address is in the Colofon, so don't be shy, send us your ideas
now. It could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
All views expressed in the above article are those of the
author, Piper, and do not necessarily reflect those of ST NEWS.