Why History Needs Software Piracy

By Jason Fitzpatrick on January 27th, 2012

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 a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/27/12
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