When the Bulgarian authorities arrested the Denuvo cracker Voksi, he posted on the CrackWatch subreddit, telling them: "Sadly, I won't be able to do what I did anymore," he said. "I did what I did for you guys and of course because bloated software in our games shouldn't be allowed at all. Maybe someone else can continue my fight."
His defense appears to have two aspects – that he never pirated anything, (although he acknowledges he did make a tool that could be used for piracy) and piracy isn’t a real theft anyways.
Copy protection debate aside – when is it okay for someone to decide that they should take someone else’s work, alter it and release it into the public as a ‘better’ version? This isn’t a thing we do in other areas of life. It is always a concern when people say the phrase ‘shouldn’t be allowed at all’ with such conviction, as though they are the final authority on such matters.
The opinion that piracy is not ‘real’ theft because when you steal a physical object, more steps of “money being spent” have gone into the creation and distribution of that physical product, seems to be growing in popularity. The premise is that because digital distribution is ‘easier’ and digital goods are theoretically infinite and require no ‘manufacturing’ it is not the same. This just discounts the intellectual effort that goes into making something.
The formula is something like this: Idea + Production + Distribution = Good (Or I+P+D = G), where Production = Manufacturing * Development * Testing. The ‘it’s only digital so not real theft’ seems to suggest that the formula should be IPD=G instead so that if any part of the formula can be reduced to $0 then there is no ‘real’ cost and you can just take the product or good.
Even if that were true (and it isn’t), the formula can never be reduced to zero in either example. Even something like topsoil has a cost for manufacturing because you need to pay someone to dig it up load the truck. Bottled water? Even if the water was free, the bottle isn’t. Software (including game software) is no different because they do not distribute themselves. The major issue here is that some folks have decided that there is no cost for digital distribution, which is not true. Marketing is part of distribution and is never free. If it takes time and effort it isn’t free.
Another argument from the ‘piracy is good’ camp is that pirated copies represent free advertising and therefore result in a benefit to the developer which offsets the lost sale. This is a ‘you should be happy with the exposure’ instead of a paycheck situation. Should news anchors work for free because they get so much exposure? The flaw here is who gets to decide the value of that exposure. If a developer thinks the exposure is worth it, they can release the game (or a demo) for free to get the exposure. It is when someone else decides they need the exposure that it turns into a problem.
There is a variation on this theme in the form of ‘piracy takes time and effort too’. The overt claim here is that the efforts of the pirate offset the efforts of the developer so there should be no money included in the transaction. This is a poor attempt at the barter system argument, because in bartering both sides have to agree on the value of what they are offering to trade. In the pirate version of bartering, he pirate decides that their efforts offset those of the developer – there is no two-sided agreement or negotiation.
Lastly, there has been a resurgence of the ‘I only pirated it because it isn’t released (or is too expensive) in my country’ argument. You may want a luxury car, but you can’t just take one because it is too expensive for you to buy. Sometimes a good is not worth the cost – even if it is a thing you might otherwise want. As for the availability issue, the simple solution is to buy it in a country it is released in. If you have to find a creative means of playing the game that you have bought then that is a different matter and a grey area for another debate.
Marketplaces function on some version of: Time + Effort = Value. If you work at a fast food restaurant you are trading your effort over time for the value of money. This is based on a negotiation that takes place before the effort is expended. In other words, the burger joint offers you $X per hour and you accept the offer. The arguments for piracy all seem to want to subvert this by negotiating after the effort has been expended. An independent game developer works for three years at night on top of a day job to make a game and the pirate decides that they should be able to unilaterally set the price.
There are plenty of free things in the digital world. Free blogs, free videos and even free software. The important distinction is that the creators of that content set the price to free, not the consumers. Remember that even if you are willing to work for free it does not give you the right to make others work for free and that is what happens when you choose to take a good instead of paying for it. Even digital goods like software. Even games.