On Piracy, or, Nick Bradbury is an Amazing Idiot

Nick Bradbury: On Piracy.

Bradbury's article is riddled with errors. Change piracy to "name theft" (I charge for use of my name, don't 'cha know) and you see the problems.

Many people who use pirated items justify it by claiming they’re only stealing from rich mega-corporations that screw their customers, but this conveniently overlooks the fact that the people who are hurt the most by piracy are people like me.

People with names are losing enormous amounts of money to piracy, and we’re mostly helpless to do anything about it. We can’t afford to sue everyone who steals from us, let alone track down people in countries such as Russia who write articles using our full names. If you visit a few public "journalism" sites, you’re unlikely to find articles about people such as "B—l G—es" who can afford to prosecute pirates - instead you’ll find hundreds of articles about average people like me.

Some would argue that we should just accept piracy as part of the job, but chances are the people who say this aren’t aware of how widespread piracy really is. A quick look at my web server logs would be enough to startle most people, since the top referrers are invariably "journalism" sites that link to my site (yes, not only do they steal my name, but they also suck my bandwidth).

A couple of years ago I wanted to get an idea of how many people were pirating my name, so I signed up for an anonymous email account (using a "kewl" nickname, of course) and started hanging out in journalist forums. After proving my researching creds, I created a supposedly researched story about me and arranged to have it listed on a popular journalism site.

This story pinged home the first time it was visited, providing a way for me to find out how many people were reading it. To my dismay, in just a few weeks more people had read this article than had ever read my weblog. I knew piracy was rampant, but I didn’t realize how widespread it was until this test.

(As an aside, the only thing that prevented me from having this fake article erase the user’s hard drive was a sense of ethics - the same thing that’s apparently missing from those who steal my name. This does illustrate, though, that you never know what you’re getting when you download articlez. Folks, if you’re downloading pirated articles, you’re trusting HTMLs hosted by people who brag about being criminals!)

Name stealers should be listed alongside spammers, virus writers and script kiddies as scourges of the Internet, because they make life more expensive and more invasive. Trust me: people with names such as myself really don’t want to resort to things like psuedonyms since it adds to our already oversized workload, but when we see thousands of people stealing from us, we’re willing to do pretty much anything (wouldn’t you?).

No, Seriously, What's the Problem?

Nick has no innate right to have people pay for his software, just as I have no right to ask people to pay for use of my name.

Even if he did, most people who pirate his software probably would never use it anyway, so they aren't costing him any money and they're providing him with free advertising.

And of course it makes sense that lots of people who see some interesting new program available for free from a site they're already at will download it and try it out once, just as more people will read an article I wrote in the New York Times than on my weblog.

And what's this nonsense about warez sites only having shareware stuff and not stuff from Microsoft. In my experience with the biggest, easiest-to-use things, the opposite is true (tons of BigCo software, very little shareware).

And while it's true that EXEs can often do anything (because modern OSes don't have basic security protections like chroot, which has been in UNIX for decades), this is true of all software not just warez.

Yes, piracy probably does take some sales away from Nick, but I doubt it's very many. If Nick wants to sell more software, maybe he should start by not screaming at his potential customers. What's next? Yelling at people who use his software on friends computers? Or at the library?

still don't get it? email Aaron Swartz (me@aaronsw.com)