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December 16, 2002 at 12 PM

The Piracy Myth

Tim O'Reilly, of the O'Reilly & Associates publishing house (you know, the geeky books with animal illustrations), has published a rather lengthy and thoughtful article on piracy. (Link swiped from the always tech-savvy ~stevenf.)

Simply put, O'Reilly argues that the great clamour which the music and software industries have raised over illegal copying is a misguided attempt to protect existing publishers (the Microsofts and Universals) from the meek masses -- small authors and artists who stand little chance of profiting from the current system.

He refers to so-called piracy as "progressive taxation," and claims, as have many before including me, that the extra exposure small authors receive from free trading of their music and software far outweighs any possible loss of profit.

While it is clear from the depth of the article that O'Reilly has done his homework, what is really encouraging is that he speaks as the founder of one of the big companies of the sort he criticizes. O'Reilly & Associates has taken a less litigious path than some of its competitors and yet feels no particular hardship from piracy of its work.

Finally, the article exposes the hypocrisy of the myth that undermining the current system of distribution of literature and music would spell catastrophe. We already do it differently for TV and Internet access, where people pay subscription fees to access "free" (or advertiser-supported) content. O'Reilly sees a future where we pay a subscription fee for a service like Napster, in exchange for higher quality and reliability.

The sad irony is that the very people who have the most to gain from such a system are those fighting hardest against it. The music industry could reap millions or billions from such a system, but change is too difficult so instead the lawyers are the ones making all the money.

Comments

O’Reilley practices what he preaches — his company’s on-line service, Safari, allows users to subscribe and access to a certain number of books per month over the Web.

Kudos to you, O’Reilley!

Tim | Dec. 17, 2002 — 10 AM

Thanks for the link. I especially like the observation that “Estimates of ‘lost’ revenue assume that illicit copies would have been paid for; meanwhile, there is no credit on the other side of the ledger for copies [of software] that are sold because of ‘upgrades’ from familiarity bred by illicit copies.” I find that in my own use of software, I often use a copied version of the program before buying a legitimate copy. This gives me a chance to evaluate them without a draconian 14 or 30-day time limit.

Beerzie Boy | Dec. 17, 2002 — 2 PM

Yeah, being able to use software before spending some serious coin is a big thing. And the same goes for music. The big music store here (HMV) used to allow people to return opened CDs, and man, were those the glory days. But they stopped, apparently to prevent the practice of “burn and return”.

But regardless, I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older and more responsible (and earning more income), I’ve started willingly, almost eagerly, paying for software when it’s reasonably priced shareware that works properly and is well supported.

— Luke | Dec. 18, 2002 — 5 PM

I’m still pretty retiscent to pay for shareware…I’ve just been a pirate so long, its hard to switch. What I’d like to see for software is a payment structure that works almost like a utility…I pay $20 a month for a service like version Tracker, and then everything on that site is available on that credit. That way, I just become used to the idea of paying for software, and get something in return, rather than having to make a choice each time I need something.

Brett | Jan. 6, 2003 — 6 PM

Previously: How to Win an Argument, Part 6

Subsequently: Three Pounds of Joy

December 2002
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