My Software Is Being Pirated

If you're at all familiar with computer history, you might have heard of Bill Gates' famous 1976 letter to the Homebrew Computer Club. The letter was written to address rampant piracy of Bill's earliest product, Altair BASIC, which was being passed around quite freely by hobbyists in paper tape form, without any sort of payment to Microsoft (or, as it was then called, Micro-Soft).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I couldn’t agree more with you (and I write and sell software myself). Perhaps it’s a human tendency not only to get something for free if you can, but also (on the other side) to endlessly fret about being ripped off or having stuff stolen.

Dudes, if you are making a decent amount from your software/game, don’t cripple it or penalize the honest user in a vain attempt to stop a few people from getting it for free. It’s the honest users you should care about. The pirates can get stuffed - quite often they aren’t serious users anyway, but just stealing the product to demonstrate that they can.

Great game. Just downloaded it from the torrents… why on earth would anyone pay for a game?

Do you people feel guilty when you walk past a street busker and enjoy the music without paying for it?

Someone mentioned that people pirate software because they don’t think it’s worth its price. Problem is, those people are used to getting their software for free, so there’s really no way to compete. Free will always be cheaper. I know, I’ve been there too,. Well, the empty floppies and tapes did cost a few bucks, even back then…

I think the moral dilemma is that if a physical item is too expensive I have to chose an alternative item, or not get it at all (or save up), since stealing a physical item would be more illegal than to pirate software to most people. With software there’s always the free alternative, so you don’t really have to boycott the price/packaging by choosing a cheaper competitor. You can just use the best one without paying.

In the end I follow Jeff’s advice and pay for the software I use. Commercial and Shareware. The fact that people have paid for my software over the years has given more than 300 people their jobs and income.

And to counter the open-source debate. Not all software requires maintenance or support that one could charge for, and developers need their wages just like everyone else. And not all software is simple enough that it can be assembled in one’s spare time, as Shareware.

My Dad used to tell me that everyone has their price. Obviously for people like Wally, the price of their integrity is only $20.
I can undertand stealing food if you’re hungry but stealing a game ?

Could someone please post a link where I can get a free copy?

Jeff, great article! Regardless of what some comments said - it is an interesting and valuable read (especially for developers/designers/publishers)

Just a thought: I think that it is not possible to discuss piracy and bundle applications like Adobe Suite , etc with the general usage (i.e., games) applications in the same argument.

Apps like Adobe Photoshop, Apple’s Final Cut Studio, and alike are Pro Tools and designed for professionals that make money with the help of these apps. The cost of these applications is bargain for any professional using them. I, for example, never met any pro graphic or video designer who would question Photoshop’s $699 or Final Cut Studio’s $1,299 price tag. Within a few days of usage these applications become free and paid for. And I believe this would be applicable to majority of pro-tools used by pro-users.

I completely agree with comment by Bruce Bullis (above) that amount of innovations, engineering hours, rd, etc that went into designing such tools are simply so staggering that their prices are bargain to say the list! Should applications like such be protected - I do believe that they should. A pro-user, would be OK (I think) with what ever licensing/activation process company would through at him/her. Should such process be as painless as possible - of course! But it is a very fine line between strong protection and licensing and one-click-and-go activation process. Having used quite a lot of pro-tools myself - I have not found even one application that would force me into an unbearable activation process.

Also, one thing to keep in mind: usually licensing and activation processes have very very short life cycle. The process initiated at some point of app installation and usually never needs to be re-done again. Of course I am talking about pro-user where workstations are not being changed in a weekly bases and apps do not require to be reinstalled over and over…

General usage apps (especially games) - well… there is a different story. Of course, game developers (I do believe) should protect and license their intellectual property as well. At the end of the day this is their bread-and-butter. However, different rules, approaches, etc should probably be applied to their product as their user-base quite different from the pro-users using pro-tools.

I do not want the following to sound like a shameless plug (mentioning here to illustrate the point). I have not met a single software company that designs and sells commercial software and would not care about implementing licensing and protection into their application. I work for jProdctivity, a company that develops and sells licensing toolkit called Protection! This toolkit is designed for software developers/publishers that would like to add licensing and protection into their application. I had numerous situations where in talking to our customers (current or perspective) we are trying to calm down their urge to protect their application so tight that their paying customers will suffer.

The bottom line: Developers/Publishers need to protect their software. Their licensing plan needs to minimize casual soft piracy and prevent people from passing their software around to friends, family, and coworkers. And it needs to lock out the serious piracy that involves running key generators and passing around stolen unlock codes. Even if developer offer a free application, it is worthwhile to license its use. Licensing freeware lets such developer keep track of users, and build a valuable house list that can be used to offer upgrades to the paid versions of software.

Software licensing and protection are not just ideas to consider as someday/maybe tasks. Protecting your software is crucial to protecting your income stream.

Assuming the other 90% had pirated Altair BASIC is incorrect.

First, the Altair came with 256 bytes of RAM (yes, bytes, not KB or MB). It was typical to add RAM in increments of 1/4 KB or 1KB at that time. Most users did not have the 4KB minimum required to run BASIC.
(For youngsters who are used to 3MB Hello, world programs, I am NOT making this up.)

Second, it was common to program the Altair in assembly – many didn’t even care about BASIC.

Third, there was at least one competing BASIC at that time, called SCELBAL.

Fourth, while club members did, in some cases, receive pirated paper tapes of Bill’s BASIC that were handed out, many of those never owned an Altair and could not run it, and thus would never have been in the market for it (there were already many other microcomputers available at the time of the letter, most incompatible with Altairs).

Last, but not least, a lot of the earliest Altair purchasers never got the machine to work. The numerous ones built from kits were particularly problematic.

It’s also worth noting that Bill was greatly exaggerating the incidence of piracy. Users at that time were scattered all over the country, and had no way of sharing software, or even finding one another. While it’s true that some club members shared freely, there were very few clubs, representing a small fraction of the total users. Bill was whining, pure and simple. IMHO, it was this early perceived slight that justified in Bill’s mind the unethical robber-baron tactics he used the rest of his career, to amass billions.

I was an Altair user, and I used Bill’s BASIC, purchased legitimately. I’ve followed Bill’s exploits from the very beginning. I admired him then; now I think he’s spawn of the devil.

Maybe they’re charging too much for the game?

What if they charged 80% of what they’re charging now? Maybe they reverse the piracy rate and make more money.

Business model is probably at fault. Might be better to give away the product and charge for posting scores online. People are only going to pay for the product once but will want to post scores repeatedly.

It doesn’t help to discuss the issue by using terms that equate “copyright infringement” with the very real violence and material theft done by pirates. They are entirely different offenses, and to smear the former with the hysterical terminology of Bill Gates’s 1976 letter is a huge obstace to discussing the issue.

In fact, the most effective anti-piracy software development strategy is the simplest one of all:

  1. Have a great freaking product.
  2. Charge a fair price for it.

I’d say it’s even simpler only one thing to do, and (even easier) things to not do:

  1. Sell your wares to customers.
  2. Stop trying to treat your customers like criminals.
  3. Stop trying to control what people do with what they bought from you.

I just did the first chapter of WOG and I have no idea what you guys are on. It seems a bit like lemmings, and sure it has some nice physics but I feel no compulsion go any further. Are my standards too high?

  1. most software/games out there are crap
  2. if you use SOFTWARE (not games) for your own education, there is nothing you can’t do with open-source/freeware
  3. companies should pay for the software they use
  4. if your GAME has an estimated gaming experience of under 720 hours (because it doesn’t support multiplayer/online/free gaming) there is no sense in paying for it; if the demo you release is 10% of the game, it don’t deserve the buy

there are games worth buying; in my experience, only blizzard delivers that, if you cannot match that standard, don’t cry

I’d happily buy WoGoo but it comes with this steam product that I am not really keen on. I guess I’ll run it in a virtual machine and find out just how awful it is, but from what I hear it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone.

One thing I’d add to the above how to play nice is to honour your own fscking contract. If you say free upgrades for life don’t then turn round a year later and say we want more of your money so we’re weaselling out of it[1]. Especially don’t follow it up by closing your user forums when it turns out that users don’t like it. BreezeSys sold a lot of copies of other image editors when they pulled that stupid stunt.

I’m a little over games that suck resources for no good reason. If you don’t need 3D acceleration, don’t write code that demands it. Allow users to turn down the frills and make the game actually work when they do. I have Civ4 and it’s a dog even on a fast machine because some idiot decided that scrolling should always be slow (presumably so it looks pretty). As a result it’s a very frustrating game to play. I’m back to playing c-evo because it’s nice and snappy. Also free (and Stefan doesn’t accept donations!)

[1] the freely upgraded product is now legacy and updates are much delayed… my camera is two years old and only recently supported. The upgrade to the pro version was not free and would cost me my lifetime support.

for a free copy type into google world of goo torrent

Remember - It’s only stealing if you get caught.

I break the law every day in one way or another. It is the way the system works.

The only way Bill Gates made all his money was by giving his software away for free. The more people that download this game the more popular it will become, then more people will buy it.

I never pay for software for myself but I have walked out of contracts where the clients used pirated software and had no intention of paying for it.

The whole DRM causes piracy argument is crap. DRM is a reaction to piracy. Companies wouldn’t wear the engineering cost of adding DRM to a software title, and the decreased user experience if they didn’t believe it was necessary.

What do you think happened exactly? A bunch of EA execs were freebasing on designer drugs one day and decided hey, lets make our software harder to install and use, and burn a bunch of engineering time doing it just for shits and giggles and then the next day some white-knight hackers came along to save the world from this horrible inconvenience? Crap. If you’re downloading and using software that you didn’t pay for but you should have then it’s stealing, no matter how you try to justify it. If enough people keep doing it eventually companies will stop making games.

You can grab it from various places, not just Steam. They offer it through their site as well as through Steam, Direct2Drive, Beanstalk, Greenhouse, and Impulse.

I didn’t really enjoy the game and certainly not at that price point.

What more reason do you need for Webapps / Software as a Service?

There is another point: If you target your app to teens - most games qualify for this, then you always get some piracy. They don’t earn money yet and have enough time to search for cracks/hacks.

When I was young I also didn’t pay for all software - this changed when I grew older…

You could read (if you haven’t done yet) Brad Wardell (Stardock CEO) stance on games DRM, piracy,… and for example his gamer’s bill of rights. A part of it related to DRM and piracy follows:

  • Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
  • Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  • Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  • Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
  • Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

I am a proud owner of World of Goo on my Wii. It is a fantastic game and it truly deserves those twenty dollars.
But…does those factors really balance out? In my opinion the dynamic ip address factor weights a lot more than the others. I am not really convinced by that estimation.