You no longer have my support

A long time ago, I used to be a software pirate. It’s no secret; my hands were dirty from as far back as the 8-bit computer generation, from trading illegally copied software in stacks of 5 1/4-inch floppy disks. Sometimes by the boxload.

And even as recently as a couple of years ago, I made a case for “piracy” because the restrictions built into DVD region settings were an enormous hassle, and were preventing legitimate owners from using a product they had paid for, with real money. That still grates me, too.

But now, I completely withdraw my support for any kind of software or movie or music piracy, regardless of the grounds or the situation. You no longer have my sympathy whatsoever, period.

I hear people jabber a lot about fighting a backhanded war, a sort of battle of obstruction by pirating software, as if their efforts made it somehow more difficult for the software and entertainment industries to protect their products. I’ve heard people say they pirated music or movies as some sort of revenge effort, against an industry that continues to release shoddier and shoddier stuff.

And sometimes I might have even agreed. But not any more. Any legitimacy or rationalization or sense of nobility you might claim by illegally downloading software or movies or music completely evaporated with the Humble Indie Bundle.

Because in spite of the price, which was conceivably as low as one U.S. cent, and in spite of the option to donate all of that one cent to charity and leave the developers with nothing, some people still stole it.

Where is your nobility now? Where is your sense of revolution and damn-The-Man, when you subvert a product available for less money than is probably under the cushions in your sofa?

You’re not Robin Hood, you’re not a closet-dwelling anarchist or a technophiliac revolutionary any more. You’re a thief.

You can give me any sob story you like: I have five kids to feed. I am homeless and vagrant. I am saving my money for college. I’m saving the developer’s bandwidth by using an illegitimate torrent. The sun was in my eyes.

Nonsense. All you’ve done is prove that your motive isn’t revolutionary, that you aren’t a technophiliac anarchist, and there’s no nobility or sense of insurgency involved in your pirating. And if you would stoop to steal a penny from a charity, then your motives in every other case are equally clear.

You’re just a thief.


61 thoughts on “You no longer have my support

  1. Edward

    If you would have followed the link to the blog in question mentioning this (—-pirating-the-Humble-Indie-Bundle ), and if you had read just the first few comments there, you would have realized that in all likelyhood most of those 25% comes from kids who don’t have a credit card.

    Also, PayPal, for example, doesn’t seem to work in many countries, and even if it works, takes a few days to verify. Some people don’t have that patience.

    While I agree that pirating this by leeching bandwidth from their own site is wrong, if you make this the straw that broke the camel’s back, I think you are overreacting.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I’ve seen the blog post, Edward, and it is possible that some (I would doubt most though) do rationalize the theft with the credit card or PayPal excuse. But to me, that’s almost worse.

      It’s worse because it’s the same as saying, “I have money and I support your goal, but I can’t be bothered trying to figure out how to pay you. In this modern age, with men on the moon and presliced bread, it’s simply impossible for me to find a way to pay you legitimately. I can’t take the time to write an e-mail and find a solution, so I’ll download a torrent and leave a weak apology on your blog.”

      To me, that’s the same as walking into my local mom-and-pop convenience store and saying, “I like your local business here, and I think it’s great that you’re supporting your family with this independent establishment. And I’d like to pay you for this box of cookies, but wouldn’t you know it? I don’t have any yen on me. Yes, I have this $20 bill, but I can’t take the time to find a way to pay you with it. I can’t go to the bank and convert it, or ask a friend to change it for me, or even have a friend buy this box of cookies for me, and pay him back later. So what I’ll do is take the cookies, keep my money, and we’ll call it even. Have a nice day.”

      Sorry, but that doesn’t work for me either.

      1. gullars

        While I agree with your point it is not the same to actively take something and
        to steal something, it would be better to use as an example a group that makes
        t-shirts that are really nice, and then give their proceeds to a good case. And
        since you feel like you don’t have a good enough way to do it you look at the
        shirts and make a cheaper copy yourself instead of doing the right thing and
        help out the good samaritans.
        just my 2cents 😉

  2. p.daniels

    First, let me say that anybody who ripped off the Humble Indie Bundle (which I didn’t pick up, actually, is it still available?) is scum. End of story. Newline.

    But to paint everyone who “steals” media or software with that brush is unfair and glosses over the actual meat of the “piracy problem.” I mean, really it’s not just one issue, is it? I mean, there’s software piracy, which is IMHO just stupid. I use software that respects my freedoms, so I fail to see any kind of respectable motive for software piracy. There’s just no excuse. Pay your two hundred bucks or use OpenOffice, cheapskates.

    Okay, but that doesn’t at all address media piracy, where entirely different dynamics are at play. I mean, if I burn a copy of my new CD and give it to a friend who’s never heard of the band but might like them, is that piracy? If I forgot to rip one of my CDs, subsequently run over it with my bike, and then download the torrent, is that piracy? If a one-song sample on an artist’s website is only available as a Flash widget, and I scrape the audio from that and save it to my local drive, is that piracy? The RIAA would answer “yes” to all of the above, which (I assume) you and I would agree is absolute nonsense. But if you say “I no longer support any sort of ‘piracy’ and I think you’re just thieves,” then you let all the people I just described swing in the wind. And these aren’t fringe cases or hypotheticals. This stuff happens all the time.

    “It is better that ten guilty men should go unpunished than that one innocent should suffer.”

    1. Nobody Important

      This is why we can never have a rational discussion about piracy. Somebody has to drag out some strawmen and bang them around. Bringing up the RIAA’s silly arguments helps no one, and we both know that their idea of piracy has absolutely nothing to do with any rational and moral mind.

      In short, don’t change the subject!

      1. p.daniels

        Strawman? What the heck? This isn’t some phony argument, this is *what is happening now.* These are the lawsuits that are pending now. The RIAA’s idea of piracy doesn’t need in any way to relate to anything “rational and moral.” It relates to the law, the ones on the books and the ones coming.

        To bring it back to the topic here, as I said before, yes it is crappy that someone would steal any indie game, there’s just no excuse for it. But to say that that’s more important than single moms in Minnesota getting sued for 50 zillion dollars… well, that’s ridiculous.

    2. K.Mandla Post author

      Two weeks ago I might have agreed with you, p.daniels. But not any more. You can rationalize theft any way you like now, but seeing people steal something with a value so low as to be insignificant makes me believe that theft is simply theft.

      1. p.daniels

        First of all, I’m not rationalizing anything. I don’t pirate stuff. I personally have no dog in this fight.

        Actually, no, that’s not true. Here’s the axe I’m grinding. If taking away J. Random Douchebag’s ability to rip off an indie gaming shop means taking away my right to rip my vinyl collection, then no deal. I’d rather that guy continue to be a douchebag forever and ever than have my rights and your rights and everyone else’s rights stripped of us. Any time that someone says that I have to surrender my liberty for the sake of someone else’s profit margin… well, no. No I don’t.

        PS: I’m a longtime reader, even if I’m at best a sporadic commenter. You keep up a great blog here, I really enjoy your “living in the shell” posts. I can’t tell you how many console apps I’ve discovered through your blog. Thanks a million.

  3. karthik

    Kmandla, have you considered that you might be conflating two (or more) distinct classes of software pirates?

    There are some people who will pirate anything, anywhere, no matter the context or circumstances. There are some who, as you mentioned in the beginning, do it as a “revenge effort” or to “stick it to The Man”. There are others too, who pirate before they buy, and some who pirate it for reasons I can’t comprehend (and are none of the above).

    Why are you herding everyone under the same banner? The people who stole the Humble Indie Bundle are a subset (major or minor, we don’t know) of all pirates.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Karthik, it is possible that I am generalizing, but I am generalizing without regard to motive any longer. Like I said above, if there had been some sort of nobility attached to the piracy movement, then a situation where a one-cent DRM-free charitable product should have been enshrined by pirates unilaterally. Seeing it pirated nonetheless means there was no distinction between a project that deserved being stolen, and one that shouldn’t be stolen.

      And if I generalize from that, it’s because there’s no way to know why someone steals something. My generalization is simply an issue of “the company you keep,” “lie down with dogs,” et al.

  4. gnuosphere

    Equating copyright infringement with “stealing” and “thievery” does absolutely nothing to advance your argument.

    As Edward has stated, there surely were many who don’t have a way to pay but wanted to play the games. I don’t see what harm they did by downloading those games to play. That’s essentially why calling this “stealing” is absurd and calling those who downloaded “creeps” (as the article you linked to does) is absolute nonsense.

    As p.daniels has stated, music and software are two different beasts. I don’t advocate for downloading proprietary software for no charge. Not because it is a wrong against the developers of such software but because the software doesn’t respect your freedom. Even if the developers said, “please have our software”, it should be rejected.

    Personally, I contributed to the bundle but like you I had my complaints. But my complaints are coming from a completely different angle.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      gnuosphere, I’ll refer you to my reply to Edward. Claiming you don’t have a way to pay is a terrifically weak argument from my perspective, particularly when (if I recall correctly, but I can’t find a link now) the developers were even willing to make a donation on your behalf, and give you the games for nothing.

      I’ll have to double-check the ideas behind copyright infringement, but my own loose definition of “theft” and “stealing” both include taking something of value without paying for it.

        1. Armor Nick

          Copying commercial software is, however, the taking (stealing) of profit that would have been the property of the company. So it’s pre-theft, in some way.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Yes, Greg. I am. Can you show me where I shouldn’t be painting? Can you hold up an example of someone who stole a penny from a charity and it was the right thing to do?

        1. Nobody Important

          But it’s still hurting someone. You’re using bandwidth from a website that is donating their time and money for a good cause.

          Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Now stop being a dictionary and try and say something of worth.

      1. Greg

        “But now, I completely withdraw my support for any kind of software or movie or music piracy, regardless of the grounds or the situation. You no longer have my sympathy whatsoever, period.”

        The people who stole from charity, I have no support of. That’s not the issue- it’s a question of all other piracy, which you throw under the bus along with those who stole the Humble Bundle.

  5. SIGTERMer

    When I pay for something, I expect to use it without impairment. However, when ridiculous restrictions are placed on products I payed for hinder (or even prevent) legitimate use of these products, then I download them illegally. How’s that for a sob story?

    That said, Using a product without paying for or having the right to use it does indeed make you a thief.

    1. gnuosphere

      Theft is illegally depriving another of their property. Therefore, what you claim is false.

      The fact is, acquiring a work under copyright without permission *may* make you guilty of copyright infringement.

    2. K.Mandla Post author

      Like I said before SIGTERMer, people are free to rationalize their theft any way they like. In that sense, perhaps we agree. Personally I can’t justify the action any more, when the exact opposite of the situation you describe — ridiculous restrictions on products we pay for — gets the same treatment.

      1. Peter

        We are talking about copyright law. Therefore, a discussion about “rationalizing theft” has no relationship to the discussion at hand.

        1. Nobody Important

          We are talking about pirates taking bandwidth from a website they didn’t pay money to. A website that is a charity.

          That is theft. It is wrong.

  6. Armor Nick

    Even though I was a master pirate until today, this post has really struck me. There was a time when I would have downloaded an illegal copy of World of Goo too, but to think someone would actually STEAL from charity is something that will change my ways.

    As for the guys above; I don’t have a credit card. However, I am able to purchase stuff on the internet due to a prepaid credit card known as wirecard. Other countries have paypal support. You could always ask someone you know, perhaps your parents. There is no rationalizing piracy.

    Also, there was someone who claimed the story about copying a cd or breaking it. I think copyright law allows you to make one digital copy of whatever music or dvd you purchased.

    1. gullars

      Well, it might make you able to copy it, but in the states you can’t break the protection on the DVDs because of the DMCA, luckily I live in a country that is more lenient, and where it is still okay to download, but not to share.

      1. Armor Nick

        Here it is:

        However, it’s a Europe-only company, so I don’t think it would be of any use to you. However, it’s important to show this to people, right? 😉 So others take my example.

  7. Mobilediesel

    Copying isn’t the same thing as theft unless you also delete the original since theft is the removal of someone else’s property.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I’m not sure if I understand the context of what you’re saying here Mobilediesel, but it suggests to me that it’s okay for me to make copies or download things so long as some other person somewhere else on the planet doesn’t delete the originals. Is that what you mean?

      1. Mobilediesel

        No, I mean that it’s not possible to steal something that is non corporeal. You can steal a CD or a book they have a physical body. You can’t steal music, software or stories. They are both crimes but copyright violation is not the same thing as theft no matter how much the movie and music industries want everyone to believe that.

        I don’t advocate copying without permission, either, but calling it stealing is just as wrong.

      2. Edward

        Not some other person.

        The argument goes that it is only theft if the action — taking something — leads to someone losing it. I.e., me stealing your bicycle. However, should the bicycle be replicated by me (if such tech existed, that’ll be the day), we would both have a bicycle each. This is not theft; I did not take your bike. The only thing you would lose is a -potential- sale of your used bicycle.

  8. Adrian

    Offer anonymity and freedom to people and they’ll do whatever the hell they want.

    I’m guessing most of the paying downloaders were generally older, being raised in the world of paying for your media.

    People born in the past twenty to thirty years kind of lack that experience, and thus, lack the principle of ‘paying for what you want’.

  9. Peter

    I don’t think that big companies like EA and Ubisoft liked Humble Indie Bundle very much so they could’ve pirated it to make pirates look bad 🙂 It’s quite possible considering the fact that they did their best to decrease the chance of selling second hand games by charging 10$ for DLC on a used game.

  10. joem

    While I, too, find those who pirated the bundle deplorable and I do not at all advocate software piracy, I do take issue with you using this one instance to condemn all software, movie, and music pirates everywhere, regardless of motive.

    If you’re going to ignore any and all personal motive, then why stop at software piracy? Why not use this single example of low moral character to condemn all law breakers of any kind? Surely no criminal at all is justified for breaking any law, because we now have proof that a law was once broken by some amoral characters.

    That said, I absolutely love this blog when you discuss CLI, console, and lightweight software. Keep it up!

  11. LeoSolaris

    For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion:

    I am not really surprised by the fact that the HIB was ‘pirated.’ (I hate that term by the way. as pointed out earlier copying and theft are two entirely different actions.)

    Some people will take anything that is not nailed down, and with any social movement or phenomenon, there are always the bad elements. Take hippies for example, sure they movement was based on fighting the Man, Vietnam war, and the draft, but there was a sizable part that just wanted to do illegal drugs and get laid.

    On the (social/economic) flip side of that, for every upstanding government official, there are a portion on the take and for every ‘good’ company, there are just as sizable portions of irresponsible, or outright predatory companies.

    “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” ~James Madison, The Federalist #51

    Crime and questionable ethics will always exist because we, as human beings, have the choice to take such actions. In a large enough sampling, no matter what, you will always find those who will choice to do what is wrong, even when doing what would be right would have no negative to them. As a corollary; that large sampling will also, by default, mean that there are those who will do the right thing, even if the consequences are grave.

    Personally, I paid my money and downloaded my HIB games. I opted to install them on two (Arch) computers. This may have contributed to the ‘pirated’ number as I went back to my link and downloaded them a second time once my wife asked me to install them on her (Ubuntu) laptop as well. As the money donated to charity came from our join account, I did not see anything wrong with doing so.

  12. sapientidiot

    Just one pirates perspective here:

    I have in the past 5 years, paid about once or twice a year to actually see a movie in a theater, the movie industry made its money, and the movies i pirated are not really worth $10+ each to me. I’ve never watched a movie more then 2 or 3 times by myself, so i dont consider owning a DVD to be worth it (with the exception of primer, and a few other REALLY interesting ones).

    I’ve purchased a lot of CDs, mostly from indie bands, If they wherent already available i posted most of them to (with the bands permission). Even lady GaGa has gone on record as saying that file sharing helps musicians and any money to be made is in touring.

    Games, I pay for AFTER i’ve tried them out. If i feel like they have replay value, and they dont come with any crazy DRM, i buy them. My steam account is full of games, I’ve probably put at least $300 over the past 4 years into buying games including world of goo. But I would have never tried world of goo, had i not first played around for a while with a pirated version of Crayon Physics (and yes i know there is a demo, this was before he had released WoG on linux though).

    A HUGE reason for my game piracy is the fact that i just dont know if a given game will work in wine on my system. I’ve gotten pretty good at getting things to work with wine over the years, but many games still require me to investment quite a bit of time. My time testing software is valuable, so really i’m doing companies a favor by saving them the effort (i post results to wine HQ, sometimes to companies if it seems important).

  13. evidex

    KMandla, I agree with you. Pirating a copy of software which would have cost you a measly cent is simply incredible. I know plenty of people who, if they dropped a cent on the ground, wouldn’t bother to pick it up.

    And a cent from charity even. You can defend yourself all you like the the whole “Come-on, this massive company won’t miss the few dollars my purchase would have got them”, but to take from a charity, who do their best to help others, selflessly. Where’s your already feeble defence now?

    I would have bought it. I would have typed in my email, and watched as the transaction went through my PayPal account. Or I would have popped to the shop, threw a fiver into a pre-pay credit card, and have used that.

    I consider that theft. I consider most piracy theft. If you download a torrent of a movie, you might as well walk into a store and walk out with the disk. If you download some software, just to get around paying a hundred dollars for an office suite say, your stealing. Argue over the definition of theft all you want, cloning bicycles, whatever. You are robbing that company of a sale. You are using their product, without paying them for it.

    Imagine you were the head of a large, multi-billion dollar company. You make a load of money every year from sales. But 20% of the number of your products in use are pirated copies. You are losing millions every year. How would you feel about piracy then? Or if you ran a website, funded by some modest, out of the way ads, and half of your visitors used AdBlock? You’d be fairly pissed. I know I would.

    We create our opinions, weave our excuses to suit our positions. Simple as. It’s human nature, not that that excuses it. We’ve had thousands of years to better ourselves, and we’ve only become more greedy, more selfish…

    Anyway, that’s another argument. I’ll finish my spiel, with an admittance.

    I am a pirate. I’ve downloaded pirated software, music, movies. I have used almost every excuse there is. I can’t afford it, I can’t buy it here, I broke my copy, my key expired when it shouldn’t have etc etc etc etc. No of them are decent excuses. What is worse is that I’ve often pirated, simply because I can. I’ve downloaded movies that I’ve never watched, software I’ve never used. Simply because I had the power to.

    I will admit though, in my vague defence, that software I like, or which has been of great use to me, I purchase. If it’s FOSS, I donate. If I like an album, or an artist, I’ll buy the CD. When my XP key suddenly became invalid, even though it had more uses, I contacted Microsoft, and they sorted me out. The key I had paid for.

    That still leaves a lot un-accounted for.

    I raise my hand, and hang my head. Mea Culpa

    1. Mobilediesel

      “If you download a torrent of a movie, you might as well walk into a store and walk out with the disk.”

      Not the same thing. Not even a little.

      “20% of the number of your products in use are pirated copies. You are losing millions every year.”

      Those two statements are not related. Most of the people who download software without paying weren’t going to pay even if they couldn’t get it free. That means there was no lost sale and therefore no lost money.

      Until there is a boat full of software being hijacked on the ocean, there’s no such thing as “software piracy.”

      1. evidex

        If they’re not going to pay for the privilege of using a piece of commercial software, then they shouldn’t have or use it.

        It’s kinda like getting on a bus and not paying the fare. You haven’t payed for the privilege of being on that bus.

        Using pirated software is the same thing.

        1. Mobilediesel

          That’s not even close to the same thing.

          It’s not possible to “steal” something that doesn’t exist physically.

            1. Mobilediesel

              That’s right, an identity cannot be “stolen,” either. That is yet another case of words and definitions being used incorrectly. When someone uses another’s identity information, they didn’t steal the identity. They committed fraud.

        2. Peter

          A bus is transportation with a finite amount of space. It is a service. When you take a bus you use space and resources that are scarce.

          It is not the same thing nor “kinda” like the same thing.

  14. Grizaptimus

    First off I wish to say that I am a huge fan on your blog, and I wish my fist reply was not a critique of your views.

    In this case however I would have to disagree with you. Motive is really all that matters in cases such as these. I myself pirate some things from time to time, but there are those that do wish to support those that support the community. When I became aware of the “Humble Indie Bundle” I felt compelled to help the developers and the charities. The simple fact remains that those who would still pirate software when you could get the software for 1 cent are pirating for the sake of pirating. They would have never have bought the software in the first place, Period! To condemn those who who care about the developers that care about them, but do not care about those developers that do not care is a gross missexageration. What you are saying is the equivalent of saying that because there are murderers that every murderer is the same as Hitler or Stalin or some other mass murderer.

    While I disagree with you in this instance you blog is sill my favorite. Please keep up the good work.

  15. damaged justice

    You’ve succumbed to the Slashdot Effect: Lumping many people together into a collective mass, and attributing the same actions and motivations to all of them.

  16. tomas

    Nicely written post there, K. I agree that stealing the nicely packed bundle is wrong and I wish I knew about it before it expired so I could buy it.

    I dont, however, agree that piracy in general has now transformed into an abomination just cause some kids stole from a charity.

    I started using Linux cause I felt sick using stolen XP constantly, but if I ever need to use them again, I WILL steal it cause I cannot afford to buy it.

    Thank god, there’s linux on this world, tho…


    1. Peter

      I use GNU/Linux because it respects mt freedom, not out of any guilt (aka “sick” feeling) of using XP unpaid for.

  17. Pingback: Arrgh, Ye Be Doin’ It Wrong!! « Doesn't Not Compute

  18. mulenmar

    Fortunately I don’t need to steal XP, because I get enough to level up all the time. LAWLZ.

    Seriously though, I was going to post a rather long comment here, but it got rambly.If that’s even a word.

    In short, I agree with K. Mandla that being too cheap to even pay a CENT is absolutely stupid, and that pirating something so great is evil. But I don’t think that just because some people want to be evil pirates, we should brand all those who make “illegal” copies as evil.

    A longer, and hopefully better stated, reply can be found in the entry I just made to my blog —

  19. Mads

    ‘Thief’ will just reignite the whole biblical angle of the debate again.

    There us a better word. It’s ‘asshole’.

  20. TBM

    I think this is actually one of the weakest arguments against software copyright infringement.
    The bundle was set up in such a way that none of the price paid need go to the developers, an arbitrary amount of your choosing could be given to charity.
    Given that the creators of the work could if you choose derive no benefit they consequently suffer no loss – all we are left with then is the question of whether to donate to the chosen charities. There is no particular reason a person should donate to a given charity rather than one of their own choosing. So if someone downloads a copy without paying then it seems pretty much OK as long as at some point in the future they use some money on a cause they deem worthy even if that cause is themselves.


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