Another look at software piracy

By JR Rodriguez IV

WE often take for granted that we are both blessed and cursed with software piracy. Blessed because it gives income to small businesses and helps with the economy, but cursed because it is the wrong way to push our economy.

Piracy is a criminal offense, it is along the same line as drugs and gun trafficking. How can pirates ever be proud of doing illegitimate business just to earn a buck, even if they say they're doing it for their family? I think it is insulting.

There are thousands of stores here in the Philippines that sell pirated software. Unfortunately I cannot say that there is a tilt in the balance between stores which sell legit software and ones that sell pirated software, because there is only one store that I know of with around a dozen outlets that sell solely legit software, Data Blitz. Maybe less than 10 other stores sell both pirated and legit software at the same time. That would make the count 22 legit stores versus thousands of pirate stores. With these figures, there's no question who the winner seems to be.

Pirated games sell for around P100.00 per CD. If we break it down even more, blank CD-R's cost only around P10.00 per piece, so you can imagine how much the pirate's profit margins are. And if necessary they can dip their prices even lower and still make a profit. There's almost no way legit softwares can ever win versus piracy unless they go into a price war against them.

There maybe no guns and drugs involved in selling pirated software, but the criminal offense is almost similar for these violations. Pirated stores are usually located in medium and upper class malls because the people who can afford their own gaming pc usually hang there. In fact pirated games and software are sold everywhere and there's no need to hide, the businesses are duly registered and they pay their taxes. If the cops raid them and get their entire stock, they close for a day and open the next day. It doesn't cost much to fill up their store again with games and software, and since cops can't hang around all day for several days watching thousands of stores, there's almost no way to control the infestation.

We have very strict laws against piracy, but if no one complains or files legal cases against them, pirates will go on selling and consumers will go on buying. It's the law of cause and effect really, the more pirates are able to sell, the more consumers will buy, the bigger piracy becomes.

There are maybe around 3 software giants who actively combat piracy legally and with adequate success. Of the thousands of pirated stores around the country, I know of only a few which are still brave enough to sell pirated Microsoft games.

If giant gaming companies like Sierra or EA step in and legally attack piracy, I am very sure that it can be controlled if not eliminated. Because fact is there is no one here to do that. It won't cost much to hire a local law firm and monitor them to make sure they do their jobs. Maybe gaming companies can piggyback with the other software giants who are doing it already here in the country.

One major way of controlling piracy being employed by software giants is shifting to on-line gaming, and if piracy continues it may be the future of gaming as we know it. Yahoo Games is very successful at this and is one of the leading innovators against piracy gaming. ISPs in the US like EarthLink and Verizon are officially liable if they host any type of WAREZ site. A Warez site provides software copies that you can download which are stripped of all copy protection. If you haven't noticed, the labels of pirated games almost always have the label WAREZ on it.

Here in the Philippines, the buying power of gamers is very small. If gaming companies will shift to on-line gaming, $10.00 a month is a lot considering the average wage here is around $130.00 a month. So why shift? Many people think that they won't survive and will lose money if they do that. Well for your information, boys and girls, gaming companies make over $50 billion dollars from console games (PlayStation2, XBox, GameCube) yearly. The pc market is less than $5 billion dollars a year, but the biggest piracy problem is in the pc community. For companies like that the bottom line is always very important, they can do without selling pc games and won't feel the pinch as much as we will. When that happens, not only will we spend more to be able to play, but the pc gaming economy in our country could crash, including piracy.

If gaming companies can drop their prices, maybe by eliminating the expensive packaging and manuals, there is a chance they can still rake in the millions that the pirates are earning. Pirated software doesn't come in packages here, just the cd and it's casing, sometimes the cds are just in plastic packs and the title of the game is written on it.

There are perks when buying original software. You get a beautiful and colorful manual, sometimes posters and maps and books. When I bought my Baldur's Gate II, it came with a map that I already framed, several character cards that I added to my collection, a thick manual, a story book, a shortcut guide card, a bonus cd with statistics and pictures and stuff like wall papers etc, and the most important of them all is another BONUS CD that, after installation, will create an NPC character who will appear in the market place of the first town and will sell you several very important weapons and armor. One weapon-I won't tell you what-will be very crucial in defeating one of the most difficult monsters in the game, and I won't be able to finish the game without it. I can't help but wonder if there is anyone who finished the game with a pirated copy since the bonus cd isn't included in it.

Until such time software giants crack down on piracy, people won't stop using pirated software, which will eventually become a dilemma for legit software users who don't use pirated products. Prices of legit software can never go down because companies must earn back for their expenses.

Ever heard of the game THIEF, a great game from a fairly new company? Unfortunately, even though the software design was superior and could set an industry standard, the company closed down due to loss in revenues from piracy. If the company survived, imagine the games that it could have produced by now.

There was a former belief that no one was really harmed by piracy, well that belief was never true. Many thousands of people lose their jobs because software companies need to cut back on their expenses. Even buyers lose their money because they end up giving away the software to other people instead of using them thoroughly.

A word of caution for pirates, laws have been and will be passed that can put pirates in prison for years, and with hefty fines. Better find another way to feed your families.

20/11/2003

Bron : Sun Star

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