Brass Lantern
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Warez, Abandonware, and the Software Industry, Page 3

by Stephen Granade

Illegality and Benefit of Warez

All of this is, of course, illegal. Home warez users realize this, web site provisos about "this software is made available for backup purposes only" notwithstanding. Some people view warez use as a form of protest against software companies, a way to avoid what they see as exploitative pricing policies. Most, however, admit that the "software for free" aspect of warez is what make it so alluring. "Pushing all the wider issues aside for now, warez is initially downloaded by people all over the world for the same reason: you're getting something for nothing," says Beelzebub, who runs A Shade Below, an online warez information site. "When given a straight choice between paying £35 and downloading [software] free of charge only Mother Teresa would consider opening her purse."

This illegality, though, doesn't bother Beelzebub.

Speeding is also illegal in the eyes of the law and everyone has done that at one time or another, but does that really make us all criminals? I'd hate to tempt fate, but I don't really think the FBI is going to kick down my door to seize a few dodgy CDs, which are for personal use only.

Itís a common assumption that pirates and the people who distribute warez on the net are synonymous. They are not; a pirate profits by acquiring software by whatever means and selling it on for their own personal gain, but this, simply put, is not the warez way. It goes completely against the sceneís ethic of free software. No one who is involved in the scene trades anymore, nor do they profit from uploading, instead warez is freely distributed to whoever wants it, all you have to do is ask nicely or loiter in the right places.

I agree, itís still digital theft, but the fact that no money changes hands between the people who upload the software and those who download it makes a considerable difference in the eyes of the law and dramatically determines the course of any punitive action that may ensue. In the pond of criminality, we the leechers, if you like, are small fish compared to the dealers who produce copied CDs by the thousands. Thereís no way that the BSA [Business Software Alliance] et. al. could hope to prosecute every single individual who has ever downloaded a piece of illegal software from the Internet. It clearly would not be economically viable, not to mention the fact that it would have little or no impact on the warez scene. Since I have never sold and never will sell warez I doubt that my name is very high up on the anti-piracy mobís hit list so Iím not overly concerned about being caught.

Beelzebub is of the opinion that there are benefits to warez use. For one, there is a world-wide community of warez enthusiasts. "[The warez scene] is a club like any other, full of enthusiasts who share thoughts, ideas and friendships over a virtual medium." For another, warez has helped drive the sale of large hard drives and CD burners.

Finally, he is skeptical of industry statistics on how much software piracy costs companies. "The statistics are carefully massaged to inflate the apparent detrimental effects to the software industry. For years the way in which these losses have been calculated is to count the number of times that a piece of software has been illegally downloaded and then to multiply this figure by the recommended retail price of the product. This is absolute nonsense and is intentionally far too simplistic. In reality maybe one in every twenty people who downloaded the same software would have gone out and bought it from a legitimate supplier were it not made freely available on the net. The critical factor, which must be understood, is that they are not all potential customers."

The full text of my interview with Beelzebub is available.

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