NSFW: Taking what's not yours

Last weekend a customer asked me for help installing software on his new Mac. When I told him he'd have to buy it, he responded, "You're techies. Can't you just do what my friends do and bootleg it?"

I told him if he asked me that again I'd tell him to leave the store.

I take software piracy very seriously. And so should you.

Software piracy isn't a joke. It's a plague against the people in this industry who try very hard, under very difficult circumstances, to make a living by developing useful, fun software for people.

It's easy to convince yourself that your desire to use software is more important than the developer's need to get paid for their efforts. It's simple to give yourself a justification: I'm just a poor college student; I'm between paychecks; I'll pay for all of it when I'm better off. And it's also simple to look at big companies like Adobe, Apple, or Microsoft and say, "They're making plenty of money already. They don't need more from me." Or even "I'm sticking it to the man!"

The problem is that justification makes it that much easier to avoid paying for software from a smaller vendor — maybe a hobbyist who's trying to turn development into a career, or a small developer that lives release to release.

Software piracy may be worse on Android and Windows platforms than it is on the Mac or iOS, but it still is a huge problem. There are no shortage of web sites, torrent sites and other places where someone motivated can download cracked copies of any Mac software apps or games they might need. Apple's tried its best to limit the issue on iOS, but people who jailbreak their devices can do it more easily. Last year there was even a 'Wirelurker' malware outbreak involving the Mac — primarily limited to China — that preyed upon jailbroken iOS device users who were pirating software.

I hear a common justification that software piracy isn't the same as stealing, because there has been no theft of physical goods. That's merely a pretense, a weak justification for shitty behavior. It may not be the exact same as stealing a car, but you're still getting something of value without paying for it.

In recent years the entire industry has had to pivot from a pay model to a service model, where consumers get software up front for free but in order to use it, or to use it fully, they need to pay a monthly or annual fee. Adobe with Creative Cloud and Microsoft with Office 365 are practical examples. But this isn't limited to large developers. With in-app purchases in the App Store, for example, small developers have found ways to keep on charging customers for content or for service after the initial download.

Our insatiable appetite for "free" has made many of us pennywise but pound foolish; we're only too happy to download a free app even if it means we'll end up paying for it over and over again later.

That's not to say that the software industry has accelerated towards pay-to-play or software as a service only because of piracy, but for many developers, it's an important motivation.

I don't pretend to think that software piracy is an issue that we can solve simply by shaming people into doing the right thing. The problem has been around almost as long as software has been around, and will continue to plague us in the future.

I'm just asking for you to think before you take something that you haven't paid for, and consider the ramifications if the developer behind that product isn't able to continue selling and supporting it. Most of us, left to our own devices, will do the right thing.