Nearly anyone can tell you that stealing is wrong, even if they admit to doing it themselves. You can’t honestly justify stealing something with your bare hands as small and simple as a stick of gum from a stranger.  It physically exists and has undergone a manufacturing process, so it has a value, even if it’s nearly negligible.  But when something doesn’t physically exist, where do you draw the line of value? How do you prevent it from being copied? Is it ever considered acceptable to pirate something? This article focuses on an unbiased approach to these questions and does not intend to offend anyone who creates digital content.  I do not endorse piracy.

Defining Value

All examples are focused on relativistic scenarios in a modern commercialized country.

What defines the value of something tends to be a combination of the object’s mass, scarcity, members involved (to produce the product), elapsed production time, and effort to create it. But, there are three aspects that are the most crucial – quality, necessity, and demand. Without at least one of those, all other variables are useless, but they can’t define the price by themselves either. Take wine for example.  Even though there is a high demand for it, most of the ingredients and preparation that goes into wine generally isn’t expensive.  However, there are very expensive wines.  These wines do not have a high demand and involve something different about them that increases their value (usually arbitrarily).  These wines are considered luxuries. Luxuries are inessential, but tend to be comforting/useful enough that they can increase happiness or productivity, which in turn makes the object more valuable.  While some software and media might supply a method essential to live, most could be considered luxuries.

Physical vs Metaphysical

As matter cannot be created nor destroyed, anything that physically exists ought to have some value.  That means even a grain of sand could technically have a price.  So no matter what you decide to steal from someone, it did not come from nothing. But, what about things that don’t physically exist? How exactly do you put a price on that? Music, photos, videos, the text of documents, and software all exist but as a form of media, they have no semblance mass (the medium they’re supplied on doesn’t count). Media and software are always in demand, but quality becomes the most controversial factor. In the digital/virtual world, the saying “you get what you pay for” cannot realistically apply. The reason, while being unfair, is because digital content can almost always be duplicated infinitely (legally or otherwise), and therefore is effectively worthless. This wasn’t such a problem back before DSL Internet and hard drives greater than 2GB because it wasn’t easy to give a copy of something to the world.

It isn’t fair how hard work can be categorized as worthless, when all the resources used to produce it could have had a lot of true value. On the other hand, is it fair to put a price on something that there can be a theoretical infinite supply of? That becomes a disproportionate profit, much like charging $500 for a paper cup. For argument’s sake, let’s say you had the ability to infinitely create matter and form it in any way imaginable. So, you decide to create one-trillion tons of pure platinum. Does platinum have any considerable value anymore? Digital content can be readily duplicated. The only way to truly justify value of digital products is if they gain the attributes of physical products. Digital products cannot account for mass, and don’t have the limitations of massive objects, such as resources, manufacturing facilities, and shipping.  Instead, they depend on something physical to be of any use.

Current Forms of Antipiracy

There are plenty of provable methods, but most of them are unrealistic, even for a corporate environment. Many of today’s forms of antipiracy have proven to be ineffective since their initiation. But before getting into what works, it is best to go over what has been done, and why they don’t work.  To start, lets look at serial keys – every program that uses one could have hundreds of thousands to millions of pre-generated codes. All copies of the program will accept any one of these codes. It takes very little effort to brute-force crack them, especially if a pattern is recognized. Then there are DRMs, where usually a 3rd party application will communicate to the company’s server to confirm you have a legit copy. The problem with these is you can create a local fake “company server”, or, a program can be developed that stands in place of the DRM itself, preventing the need to even have an active Internet connection. Another antipiracy method are physical USB keys with a code stored in ROM, much like the MAC address of a network card. This would be a fantastic idea, but the problem is it takes no effort to spoof it, let alone being a waste of a USB port.

Developers Have No Excuse

I have a theory of a cost-effective, non-intrusive form of antipiracy. This idea revolves around the concept of how a physical product is made. Physical products are produced by a series of processes involving design, resource retrieval, resource refining, production/manufacturing, and then packaging. Except for designing, every one of these processes must be repeated in order to manufacture a product. In software creation, you have programming (design), the Internet/discs (resource retrieval), the libraries (resource refining), compiling (production), and the installer (packaging). All of these tasks are only performed once, where all a customer needs is an exact copy of it and a new serial key. Since digital products can be effortlessly duplicated, re-gathering the resources is pointless. In the end, nobody sincerely cares about the install process, just as nobody cares if a product is shipped in packing peanuts or shredded paper – people just want their product in a perfect, functioning condition in a timely manner. So that leaves compiling as the variable to change.

To read about my theory for antipiracy, or, to use the survey on software price placement, click here for the next page.

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