heiko rudolph

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a provocative view: are there benefits  in software piracy in developing nations ?
Truth and further truth...

sometimes the obvious message is not the true message. Or put another way: there are various layers to any issue. It depends where you stand...

We all agree: Pirates are reprehensible, morally Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad people ! right ? RIGHT !
Pirates take what is not theirs and use it without licence ! That's got to be bad right ? !
We who are nice and honest people finally have found someone on whom we can dump all our pent up frustrations.

Lets take the example of software 'piracy' in SEAsia:What we have is loud complaints from multinational companies (some of which are relatively wealthy). Most of SE Asia cannot afford to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the common software programs used on computers.
Companies cannot afford to sell it cheaper at a price that the people there could actually afford, because tourists would buy the cheaper versions in droves and in the climate of a so called FTA (Free Trade Agreement) this would not do.

However I would contend that this actually suits and benefits those companies in a strange kind of way: they obtain the best of both worlds1):
They can
1) take the moral high ground, in terms of being 'hard done by' and claiming lost sales. (though in reality these are not lost sales, because the people there could simply not buy the software, so really they have no choice but to 'steal' it)
2) and the benefit of those 'poor' countries using their software !

"Hang on !" you may say, "how is there a benefit for those companies in having their software used illegally ?"

Actually the benefits are probably huge:
1) By using the software (be it 'legally' or 'illegally') people are not using someone else's free software !
2) People become familiar with the software and used to one type of application for things such as word processing etc... 2) !
3) While complaining loudly, the big companies can go hunting for licence revenue by applying legal and moral pressure. As soon as those SE Asian nations can afford it they are then hit with the licence fee.

Thus the the game appears to be that while one has to complain voiciferously at the SAME time it would be best if those people who cannot afford to pay for the software, to be using the software illegally (and to get familiar with it) until they can afford to pay for it.

The true advantage of this system is really only apparent when we consider the alternatives:

Let us assume that by some miracle, overnight, only licensed software could be used.
Suddenly it becomes totally apparent that the majority of SE Asian computer users cannot afford to run their computers anymore.
What would be the result?

    Simple: those nations would discover (as China is now discovering) that much of the commonly usd software can be repleaced by virtually free alternatives.

Almost all software might be open source. It would be free, or at locally affordable prices ! At level appropriate to the local economy.

This is not really something that any of the major players would like to see. One only needs to look at how strongly a certain major personal computer software company is serenading and wooing China with 'sweet deals' to see that alternative software use if perhaps worse than illegal use of their software ?

Better to turn a blind eye till those users can afford to pay, then hit them with licence fees. By that time they will be well and truly 'hooked' on the software !

At some point it may be prudent to sell software really cheaply to young people to ensure they are used to and familiar with ONLY one brand. In Strange to say that Australian Universities all use ONLY one brand of software......

This is an example of the innate tension of the free market place. The same philopsophy underlies democratic ideals: While each party and each team has the purpose of winning and pushing out the competition, in the bigger picture we don't actually want ONE player to win permanently nor to succeed totally in removing the competition. The big picture is that we actually want the fight, we want the competition. Two opposing principles.

This principle applies in any sport: the truly interesting game is one where both sides work hard and it becomes a close game. There would be little point in playing a team of 8 years olds against young adults.

Likewise: if you are team member then your job is to work for that team. If you are spectator your job is to support your team. If you are a sport organizer your job is to organize a good game, a good fight. Your don't care too much who wins.

Humans have within them the capacity to work together for the common good !


1) 'suits' in much the same ways that 'illegal' migrants suit a more developed countries: they supply a workforce for jobs no-one else wants to do, and yet they can be kicked out anytime they become 'bothersome'. Examples are: Mexican workers in the US, and Burmese and Lao workers in Thailand.

2) Familiarity should not be underestimated: it is not just out of pure love and 'nice-ness' that a certain large software company has special really cheap deals for Australian tertiary students… and that most Australian Universities use that company's products… how this sits with the idea of critical thinking, scholarly independence is an academic topic for another time.

Melbourne, March 2005-2008, © Heiko Rudolph

© 2003 heiko rudolph


'dance me to the children that are asking to be born....'    Leonard Cohen