Is Software Piracy Stealing?

This post is obviously not about WPF. I just read discussion on StackOverflow question: I’ve found my software as cracked download on The Internet, what to do?. Some of the answers and comments infuriated me so much I had to vent somewhere. Hence this post. Just to keep the tone of this blog, it will be in a form of tutorial – software piracy for dummies.

The question was posted by a software developer who found cracked version of his product. He asked what he could do to protect his product in which he invested six months of hard work.

I was surprised by the number of answers and comments that try to justify or minor software piracy in different ways. Even worse, StackOverflow is a place where almost all visitors are software professionals, the high number of them work that job for the money, and I didn’t expect there will be so much effort in explaining why software piracy is not so bad.

Just to be sure, I collected links that describe what is considered software piracy.

What is software piracy?

Numerous articles describe what software piracy is. Here are some top links from Google:

Read it, get your conclusion. As I read it, short interpretation is:

  • Vendors do not sell software like potatoes or cars, you do not buy the product, you buy the license to use the product.
    • Unless you are buying whole product, source code, and rights to do with it whatever you want. This kind of transactions are rare and are not subject of this post.
    • You can use software only under conditions product license allows
  • Copyright laws protect tThe software in the probably whole world. It is protected from unauthorized use and copying same as books and music.
  • Unauthorized use of software or use prohibited by the license is called copyright infringement of software. This phrase is how lawyers call it, for the rest of us it is software piracy
  • So, if you get and use software, but don’t have valid license, you are pirating software

How can software be pirated?

Here are some common ways of software pirating:

  • Copying software – most common. It’s making more installations than the license allows, usually one copy is bought and then it is given to family, friends or coworkers.
  • Downloading from internet P2P networks or file sharing sites (also very popular).
  • Buying counterfeit copies (look for internet ads that offer “huge discounts” and “OEM versions”). Call local wise guys, since it is usually big operation that involves production and distribution, so it needs an organization to run it.
  • Hard disk loading at computer shops

Ok, now that I’ve covered what software piracy is and how it is done, rant can begin.

About “Piracy is not stealing” idiocy

Let’s concentrate on software that has the price. You can argue it is not stealing, but pirating works something like this:

  • there is a commercial product that legally can be obtained only in exchange for money
  • pirate obtains said product without giving money in exchange for product

As we established before, this is called copyright infringement of software. Technically, it is theft, but it is illegal.

On the other hand, if you enter a shop and take some product without leaving money for it, it is called stealing.
If you take a cab ride and run without paying, it is called stealing.
If you stay in a hotel for a month and run without paying, it is called stealing.

So, if you get/take/obtain something that you should pay for, but without paying, it is stealing.

So, why we can’t call software piracy stealing? Pirates were expected to give money in exchange for the software license, but they didn’t. They got the product, but they didn’t pay for it. Ergo, stealing.

About “You should be happy somebody is pirating your software.”

That is one amusing sentence. The reasoning behind it is: “If there is no crack, your software is crap that nobody needs”. Maybe.
On the other hand, I don’t know how can anybody be happy when people steal from them. What kind of moron must I be to be happy in that situation?

Like I should put the following text on my web: “Hello world, I worked my ass of for last x months to make this software, that will make your life a little bit better, that will ease your job, that will make you some money, now come on and rip me off, make me and my family starve to death, so I know my software is worth something, and now I can die happy (and hungry)”.

A load of crap.
It is like this: “Hello world, I worked my ass off for last x months to make this software. Maybe it could make your life better, maybe it could ease your job, maybe it could make you some money. If you want to use it, I expect you to pay me. If you don’t have money, if you think it is not worth as much as I ask, or if you don’t want to pay me for any other reason, then you are free to continue your life and work the same way you did before, without my software. Thank you.”

I spent time creating software with the idea that it will be worth to people in one specific market. I don’t need pirates to justify my effort. Paying customers are more than enough justification. I would be very worried if there are no customers.

About “People who use pirated copies won’t buy anyway.”

This is the variation of the fallacy from the previous paragraph. The software is created with the idea of helping people do their job or have fun or whatever. Essence is making life better. Not all software achieves this, but that is another story.

My software (I hope) helps people do their job better, faster and easier. It makes them cash by helping them do more at the same time. I want some of that cash, and it is the amount they can save/earn in a couple of hours using my software. If they don’t pay me, I don’t want them to use it. Simple. My software, my rules and copyright law.

Somebody pulled Microsoft as an example. Allegedly, Microsoft was not very eager in fighting piracy in the developing countries as a method of penetrating the market. Moto was “they won’t buy anyway, so it’s better to let them use pirated windows than some other OS”. But there are very few companies that can do this. Small companies can’t wait 5-10 years like Microsoft can.

About “Price is too high, people cannot afford it.”

I found one very funny example in comments. It is about Adobe Photoshop pirating. The poster suggested that Photoshop piracy rate is very high because it is expensive. Well, it is quite pricey. And it should be. It is probably the best tool on the market (I don’t know for sure, not my area, please correct me if I’m wrong). Adobe has a large team working on a product. Those people earn their paychecks every month. Adobe must charge a premium if we want to have better versions of Photoshop.

Those who cannot pay are free to use any other tools they can afford. Photoshop is not the only tool in the world. There are other tools. Maybe not that capable, maybe they will take more time than Photoshop for the same tasks. Use what you can afford, and then save money and buy Photoshop if you need it.

You cannot buy big Mercedes for the price of small Chevrolet. Why is then considered normal to steal Photoshop if you cannot afford it?

About “You created software, it does not cost you anything to make copies.”

This is one where my head wants to explode. Even more so when I hear it from software developers who expects to get a regular paycheck. Basic naïve simplified software development economics:

  • n people created software for m months
  • for this m months, people working on software had to eat something, so they got some salary s
  • the total cost of development is about n * m * s plus some other expenses which in the end gives an awful lot of money (this is economics term)
  • now somebody estimates that we can sell a boat load of copies, and then it divides total development cost with a boat load, adds some margin and determines the unit price
  • now we wait to sell a boat load of copies just to break even
  • after we sell a boat load of copies, we start to earn and get filthy rich

So, yes, the act of copying software over internet costs almost nothing. The problem is that small software companies invest in development counting on future income. If pirates eat that income, it’s usually the end of company and product.

So, if you like some piece of software, buying it will help the company survive and upgrade product. Making free copies and pirating will likely kill it.

Software piracy is stealing

Third time’s the charm. This is the third title that says software piracy is stealing. This is for Google and other search engines. I want them to know what I think. I hope it’s clear.

What struck me on the StackOverflow site was that lots of the software developers condone piracy. There are some excuses used to justify pirating. The only conclusion is that developers are heavily pirating software.


  • I am not a lawyer. I don’t want to argue about copyright law interpretation. I wrote mine; you are free to do so in comments.

18 Replies to “Is Software Piracy Stealing?”

  1. Amen.

    Absolutely right. It’s surreal that professional software developers could entertain the idea that stealing software is acceptable. I wonder how much is a matter of justifying what they personally do. Pirate software. Download pirated music, copyrighted movies, images, fonts, … whatever they can get their hands on. All of it requiring that the creator invest time and money in the development.

    For instance, Adobe ticks me off with their insane pricing, crappy support, and upgrade approach (ex. if you skip a major version between upgrades, you pay more), but they invest tons of money and effort in product development, and i grudgingly fork over the bucks when i upgrade. To do otherwise would be stealing. If i don’t want to pay, i won’t steal their stuff; i’ll make do with alternatives (such as they are) or develop my own solutions (ha!). Same with Microsoft, same with games, same with music, fonts, images, …

    If an artist, a musician, or a software developer want to give away their work (and some do), then more power to them. That’s nice, and it’s sometimes even quality work. But that’s no justification for stealing from those who charge for their work! And honestly, it’s difficult to live on giving away all your work. Adobe and Microsoft give away a lot, but balance that out by charging premium prices for the premium products.

    To be fair, there are a lot of responses on the StackOverflow question that agree: software piracy is theft.

    But i too am surprised that so many do not. Maybe they’re simply hooligans justifying their own behavior? Maybe anti-capitalists? Maybe just no understanding of economics or business?

  2. I think that those who try to justify piracy never created their own product and they don’t know how does it feel when somebody takes something from you.

    P.S. sorry because comment did not appear immediately when you posted it. I forgot to turn comment approval off. Now it should be fixed.

  3. Yes definitely a great article. I never liked the word “piracy” because I think it was chosen by some marketing committee in the 90s in some large corp, but unfortunately it describes well how things are.

    I agree with your points and just wanted to add a funny story (names changed):

    I was reading forums about how to protect from cracking an iPhone app. While reading trough many threads on an iPhone cracking forum to see what the little guys are actually doing to crack the apps I find the following touching story: A guy called XYZ posted a thread with more or less the following message – Hi guys, I’m a long time contributor to this forum, etc. etc. but after a while I got interested in programming for the iPhone so I decided to make an app of myself. So some time after I got it into the app store, I have found it in a torrent site. My app name is ABC so please when you are downloading ABC from some website and install it on your iPhone keep in mind you are hurting the sales of a fellow cracker.

    What a drama eh? The guy made laugh so hard 🙂

    Cheers, and congrats for this post

  4. Thanks for kind words.
    BTW, AKismet (antispam plugin for WordPress) marked your comment as spam. I reread it twice and I can only conclude that AKismet is a bit overzealous. Maybe word crack irks it.

  5. The argument that seems to be lacking, but seems to be becoming more relevant these days is that it is easier to use cracked software than it is to use legal software. I reformat my hard drive every couple months. This makes a lot of modern software lock me out after 3 or so reformats because it thinks I am installing it on different computers. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of properly uninstalling everything before a reformat.

    I don’t want to buy software where I need to trust that the company I bought it from will be here a year from now. But with modern copy protection, I need to do that because if it cant authorize itself it either wont install or run. If I download the pirated version this isn’t an issue.

    If the version that costs me money is harder to use than the free version, why would I pick the harder to use version? If the version that costs money will potentially be useless if the company that makes it goes under but the free version will continue to function, why would I use the version I have to pay for? I don’t pirate software other than to get the easier to use version after I already bought the retail version. But some anti-piracy attempts have really made me question this. I want to get MORE functionality out of the legal version that costs money, not less.

  6. Is rape theft? It is also taking something you have no right to. Maybe you don’t pay for sex so say no, but then does it become theft if a prostitute is raped?

    I have never heard anyone argue that rape should be defined as theft, yet neither have I heard anyone say rape is OK or good. Similarly, I do not think stealing is an appropriate description for copyright infringement (or piracy, if you will) but that in no way implies that I approve of copyright infringement.

    You don’t need to convince people that it is stealing, you need to convince them that it’s wrong. Calling it stealing just obscures the real issue because without fail it creates a discussion focussed on the definition of words. Not only it obscures the issue but people get convinced by your opposition so it’s counter-productive. You’d probably do less damage to your cause to just upload a torrent yourself.

  7. First, rape example is, at least, distasteful. Rape is disgusting crime that has nothing to do with software piracy and I don’t know how could you even compare them. Using your logic, you could argue that taking someones life is also stealing. Criminal systems grade crimes according to our “civilization standards”. So rape and murder are considered much worse crimes than theft and copyright infringement.

    Point of my rant here was the fact that “copyright infringement” is not seen as a “bad thing”. It’s often justified with reasons I mentioned in post. If you check answers and comments on StackOverflow question, you’ll see that even programmers who live from creating software condone piracy “under certain circumstances”. That was the reason I wrote this. If software pirates (of all kinds, small and large) do not understand copyright infringement is bad, then somebody has to tell them why is this bad. This post is my attempt. Stealing and theft are the concepts that almost everybody understands, so above comparison should make obvious that software piracy is a bad thing.

    Also, I don’t understand why all opponents of theft comparison try to explain by comparing piracy with some other crime. Above is definition of software piracy: “Unauthorized use of software or use prohibited by license”. Now you explain how this is not a theft. How about: “Unauthorized use of rohan’s car” – would you compare it with rape or would you call the police and tell them somebody stolen your car?

    I agree with you that we should convince people piracy is a bad thing and a crime. And here you debate with me whether we should compare it with theft or not. I would much more appreciate it if you wrote an alternative explanation why software piracy should not be done.

  8. > First, rape example is, at least, distasteful. Rape is disgusting crime that has nothing to do
    > with software piracy and I don’t know how could you even compare them.

    I didn’t compare rape to software piracy, I asked if rape should be called theft, concluded “no” to show you that the words theft and stealing are unnecessary to convey than something is a “bad thing”. Since you put so much emphasis on defining infringement as theft you detract from your argument that it’s a bad thing by providing easy ammunition to your adversaries. I wanted to use something unambiguously bad that obviously wasn’t theft. You can construct a similar argument with some other crime if using rape as the example is offensive to you.

    > Point of my rant here was the fact that “copyright infringement” is not seen as a “bad thing”.

    I know, but your rant will do nothing to convince people it’s a bad thing because the central focus of the way your argument is stated hinges on them accepting that infringement is theft. If people do not accept that definition (and you already know they don’t) then they will therefore also not accept the rest of your argument. So why make that argument?

    > Stealing and theft are the concepts that almost everybody understands, so above comparison
    > should make obvious that software piracy is a bad thing.

    Arson is understood by everybody to be bad but that doesn’t make it valid to call software piracy arson in order to convince them that software piracy is bad. You can replace arson with theft in this sentence also.

    > How about: “Unauthorized use of rohan’s car” – would you compare it with rape or would you
    > call the police and tell them somebody stolen your car?

    Well let’s take your example a little further. If someone downloaded your software and you found out, would you call the police and tell them someone had stolen your software? If you do you will be wasting your time because the police will not charge them with theft or anything else. In most jurisdictions infringement without distribution is not a criminal charge at all, you have to sue. It is covered by similar law to breach of contract, not theft. Since the police and courts don’t treat it in even a similar way to theft how do you hope to make a convincing argument that it is? Why should I ignore the legal system of my country in favour of your definition? It should be clear to you that this is just not going to happen.

    > I agree with you that we should convince people piracy is a bad thing and a crime.

    In most cases it isn’t a crime. Not every law is a part of criminal law. Some copyright infringement, particularly commercial infringement is a crime but downloading is not a crime in most legal jurisdictions that I know of.

    > I would much more appreciate it if you wrote an alternative explanation why software
    > piracy should not be done.

    You don’t need an alternative explanation, this one is fine:
    My software (I hope) helps people do their job better, faster and easier. It makes them cash by helping them do more in the same time. I want some of that cash and it is amount they can save/earn in couple of hours using my software. If they don’t pay me, I don’t want them to use it. Simple. My software, my rules and copyright law.

    This paragraph has the advantage of being factually correct (unlike the definition as theft). You don’t need a better argument as it is very hard to say anything sensible against that. Sometimes it seems people think that you should put forward every supporting argument you can think of. That is not the way to convince people because you bundle weak arguments with strong ones. When the weak argument is attacked, the effect is to diminish the persuasive effectiveness of everything you’ve said and the good points get thrown out with the bad.

    If you wrote code that produced an infinite loop and hung the system you would change or remove that code until it produced the result you wanted wouldn’t you? Well, just look at any discussion of this topic and you will see that calling software piracy theft creates an infinite loop that hangs the discussion. Debug your argument! It doesn’t matter how elegant you think it is when you’re writing it, the result it produces is an discussion crash.

  9. Also, regarding the need for explanations, the one you put under the heading:

    About “You created software, it does not cost you anything to make copies”

    is also fine and does not contain reference to theft or stealing. It’s a very solid argument on why to pay the proper price for software. Calling it theft or stealing is a propaganda tactic only and adds no value to the discussion. The argument you make under that heading is very reasonable and does not require propaganda, it will easily convince reasonable people.

    If you don’t want to reply to my post, I’d appreciate it if you’d email me with your thoughts. I really think it will improve your argument and persuasiveness to drop the “theft/stealing” thing. I am not your opposition.

  10. Ah. Strictly speaking, it looks that you are right. I read few documents on internet and since I am not a lawyer, I will quote few articles from Wikipedia.

    Copyright infringement article states that enforcement is responsibility of copyright owner. So, software piracy cannot be compared to car theft.

    I found reference on US court case where court decided that copyright infringement is not same as theft. Check the link for information. Short version: copyright infringement is different from a theft because copyright owner is not deprived of possession.

    That is, copyright owner or author still has a copy of copyrighted work. So, it’s almost like theft, but cannot be called a theft because author still has a copy of work. Now, that’s legalese bullsh*t. In theft, by definition, owner must be deprived of possession. Software piracy is a bit different. It’s almost like stealing, but it’s not stealing. I understand that law must be clear and concise. So, for all of you nitpickers, OK, it looks that legally software piracy is not equal to theft. And here we come to logic that pirates use: “Stealing software is not theft. So it can’t be a crime”. Do you know how is pirate legally called? Infringer of copyright. That’s it. And that is something people see as a joke and put on T-Shirts.

    So, my dear Rohan, you can argue as much as you want that software piracy is not stealing. Legally, you a probably right. But, unfortunately, you and other “correctors” spend to much time explaining me that words I use are not legally correct (I guess reason is I could upset pirates and can be sued because I’m calling them thieves?).
    Instead, if you are against software piracy (or to be correct: infringement of copyright) you could spend your energy and write correct description of the crime software pirates are commiting.

  11. > Software piracy is a bit different. It’s almost like stealing, but it’s not stealing.
    > I understand that law must be clear and concise. So, for all of you nitpickers, OK,
    > it looks that legally software piracy is not equal to theft.

    Well I don’t know that it’s nitpicking. This is one of the defining issues of our time, so it’s important to get it right. Take for example how I get paid, which is by contract for work done. If someone doesn’t pay the contract, I am in almost exactly the position you are if someone downloads your software. Just as you do, to recover my money I have to sue, they will not be arrested for theft. There are levels of how acceptable behaviour is viewed. An armed robber, a car thief and a shoplifter are all thieves but not all perceived equally. Someone who doesn’t pay their bill gets a bad reputation for sure, but not quite as bad as a thief, even though the economic effect is the same.

    Illegally downloading is more equivalent to not paying your bill than it is to stealing, both in the public mind and the law. That shouldn’t bother you because people get pretty ticked off when others don’t pay them, so everyone can relate. If they don’t pay my bill, they are breaking a contract with me. If they don’t pay your bill, they are breaking the social contract.

    As for the better argument or description, I think piracy is fine since it has been used for so long and everyone understands what you are talking about, otherwise “copyright infringement” is a little unwieldy but works for me. Nobody confuses the term with piracy on the high seas! As for arguments, you already have very good ones, as I have already pointed out. How many words do you really need to describe this?

    You still seem intent that it is a crime. This is another word with a specific meaning and non-commercial copyright infringement is not a crime in most places. Just as someone is not committing a crime if they don’t pay me, although I can take them to court which will enforce judgement on them, just as you can if they don’t pay you.

  12. If someone stole from me, I would not do business with them again. If they didn’t pay their bill, I might do business next time if they paid cash up front. I don’t think it’s nitpicking, there is a significant difference.

  13. I guess turning non-payers into payers is the real issue, rather than technical definitions.

    A couple of weeks ago, I got a payment that had been outstanding for a couple of months. Certainly their non-payment was having the same economic effect on me as if they had taken the money out of my wallet. I was owed that money, it was mine, and I didn’t have it. Same as your situation, yes?

    In my case though, I knew who they were, not like an anonymous downloader on the internet, so you do have a difficulty I do not. However, I got payment shortly after sending an email with a humourous comment, essentially laughing at them for not paying. Enough to embarrass them for not paying, but not so embarrassed that they became angry, broke off the relationship and never paid.

    The target of your arguments is really the downloaders. The people who use your software legally already agree and pay. The people who don’t use your software are irrelevant, since even if they agree that people should pay they won’t personally pay you, making no difference to your business. It is the people who want to use your software and haven’t paid yet that have your money. For your argument to be effective you need to aim it at these people.

    Personally, I would drop even a technically accurate argument if it alienated the people I was hoping to convince. Calling them thieves puts them offside, even if there is some merit to the statement. It won’t get them to pay.

    Check out this: and let me know what you think. Is it possible for you to engage your “late paying potential customers” and win them over? Not if you call them thieves, I’d guess.

  14. I’m sure you have some good points in this post but I couldn’t make it past the writing itself.

    Your opinions are lost in your truly atrocious grammar.

  15. What can I tell you:)
    Thank you very much. And I apologize.
    Unfortunately, English is not my native language (or is it tongue?) and I am very aware of my bad grammar.
    Anyway, thank you for your kind comment.

  16. I have an agent of some type deleting my code while i write it, while i save it along the way (replaced with previous version), after i’ve saved it and put it away, by some unvisible remote access. they move the mouse around. i’d suspect a simple virus but for the very targeted deletions being performed. the labor itself is being forced repetition, and it is not simply replicative. it this legal today? it didnt exist 25 years ago. finding my work replaced by an earlier version certainly sets of bipolar biology, and that is an affront. i cannot simply recode debugging tangles over again. i am calling this piracy and i am calling this theft, and i am claiming interference with commerce that i would save my life with, along the what is actually a medical threat to my person, particularly with the Columbine science in so nicely in bullying. recalcitrant people are just that, and are a clear issue delineated by themselves and not actually necessary here. and YES i have had no cooperation. I have had uniform infer intimate knowledge of said procedures, that isnt so likely to come back with money. however the property right is mine and i consider this, especially in front of my face in real time, a breaking and entering, with an invader i may provide king of the castle response should it go there. that is another issue besides the degeneration of my sofware text (and it could be seen as the same as a high school composition paper which is is not), and labor. i’m talking about 16 million dollars labor.

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