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Why History Needs Software Piracy

Lately we’ve been subjected to some rather fierce debate about piracy and the alleged and irreversible harm it does. One thing lost in the current debate is the long eye of history and how pirates have served our culture.

In this deeply insightful piece from Benj Edwards, we’re treated to a look at the history of illegal duplication and how, for the last 3,000 years (including the last 30), pirates have been quietly saving our intellectual history from rot. Here’s a snippet of the introduction:

I’m here to offer a different perspective, at least when it comes to software piracy. While the unauthorized duplication of software no doubt causes some financial losses in the short term, the picture looks a bit different if you take a step back. When viewed in a historical context, the benefits of software piracy far outweigh its short-term costs. If you care about the history of technology, in fact, you should be thankful that people copy software without permission.

It may seem counterintuitive, but piracy has actually saved more software than it has destroyed. Already, pirates have spared tens of thousands of programs from extinction, proving themselves the unintentional stewards of our digital culture.

Software pirates promote data survival through ubiquity and media independence. Like an ant that works as part of a larger system it doesn’t understand, the selfish action of each digital pirate, when taken in aggregate, has created a vast web of redundant data that ensures many digital works will live on.

It’s an absolutely fascinating look at piracy with a new lens (and calls to mind the author Walter Jon Williams’s use of pirated copies and crowd sourcing to convert his old and out of print books into new and shiny ebooks). Hit up the link below for the full article.

Why History Needs Software Piracy [PC World]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/27/12

Comments (9)

  1. LadyFitzgerald

    There is a difference between archival and piracy. One is for preservation and the other is the taking of something one does not the right to take and distributing it to others. Whether for financial gain or not, piracy is wrong. While I feel that DRM unfairly inhibits fair rights, including archival and media shift, and don’t have a problem with breaking DRM to achive those fair rights (and recent court decisions are slowly turning in that direction), the linked article comes across as another tiresome, pathetic rationalization for piracy.

  2. criostage

    He could pointed out many many other things about piracy. Example, sometimes pirating an game or an program will give an company an potential client that the company it self wouldn’t get it in any other way, i may be exaggerating but companies like AutoCAD, Microsoft and Adobe probably would never be like they are in the market in our days if wasn’t for piracy. As long the software/music/video/etc… is good enough to satisfy the “pirate”, i douth that even the biggest pirate in the digital history would never bought an piece of physical media containing his favorite software/music/video/etc.

  3. Ushindi

    LadyFitzgerald’s simplistic views come across as another tiresome, pathetic rationalization for the U.S. Congress to take control of the internet for the benefit of the U.S entertainment industry.

  4. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Ushindi. How the heck did you come up with that? Nothing I said has anything to do with government control of the internet (which I am against, btw). I even pointed out a serious flaw with DRM legislation. Your baseless accusation sounds more like a pathetic attempt to draw the focus from the real issue; mayhap your own piracy?

  5. Anonymous

    Here’s a video on Youtube you may want to watch if you still think pirating is always a bad thing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qkyt1wXNlI&feature=player_embedded#!

    Synopsis: An author who writes and makes his living selling books used to oppose piracy until he realized how it was helping him. Watch the video to find out why.

  6. Boob

    This ^ dude is a git.

  7. John

    Even Bill Gates said he’d rather they pirate his software, rather than someone else’s… No business opportunity lost to him

  8. Tom

    If this law gets passed in the US then it will likely drag the rest of the world kicking and screaming with it. The internet should have an agree and disagree button when you first log on that states the internet is free, open source and should give people the ultimate freedom. People like SOPA should think about when the internet was first created and what it was meant to be used for. It was suppose to be like a giant wikipedia page that allowed people to say,do and express what they liked. Their should be an organisation that speaks for the rights of the world (governments are suppose to do that but…) and stops people from privatising and controlling peoples freedom to express themselves and do what they like on the internet or any other technology without being monitered or controlled.

    Can we have no freedom anymore without some git knowing what we are up to. If this goes ahead in another 20 years when the rest of the world has started to control the internet and is profiting off it there will be another way for people to know and find out things without being monitered.

    its human nature to seek privacy and have freedom and rights, it seems like we are starting to go backwards in time when bearucrats ruled the world… oh wait.

  9. zeraeign

    @John. So true. Same with Adobe’s products. If not for Piracy, they wouldn’t be the standard software today.

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