(It IS about computers! I don't know where to post it! Better play it safe)
(Also, why does the profanity filter filter out a word which rhymes with 'pollocks' but not a word which rhymes with (and indeed, is) 'shit'? Also, can I turn this filter off? Also, hello)
I've noticed (and this may be mistaken) a general hostility amongst proponents of Free Software towards software piracy, which seems a little strange as to my mind some of the goals of some amongst the more thinking, organised piracy movements seem to align with some of those of Free Software. I'm just going to, in my rambly way, describe how I see it and ask you for your thoughts/feelings/opinions.
I think the reasons for this hostility probably broadly fit into four categries:
1. I'm sure some of this is the kneejerk 'piracy is theft' stuff which even piracy opponents have largely given up on now.
2. Some of it is just not wanting to provide the 'other side' with ammunition, I'm sure. If Free Software people get tagged as 'criminals' then the public debate suddenly becomes much easier.
3. Competition: The more people are able (technically and culturally) to pirate (for example) windows, the fewer will use (for example) Linux. i.e. if it was impossible to pirate windows, everyone who couldn't or wasn't willing to pay windows would be forced to find an alternative.
4. And some is down to a belief that piracy doesn't address notions of Freedom, only free-of-charge-ness.
Some of this relies on a kind of mismatch of ideals:
Free Software means Freedom, not price. Free-of-charge is a byproduct of Freedom. Price is not what they care about.
Proprietary software isn't anti-Freedom, it's anti-not-getting-paid. The lack of Freedom is a byproduct of it having a price. (Lack of) Freedom is not what they care about.
They are not really diametrically opposed, they just put different things at the forefront. The diametric opposite of proprietary software is piracy, where the premise is everything is free of charge.
Anyway, getting into the whys and wherefores:
This one is pretty tiresome. Making unauthorised copies of something you would not have otherwise bought (which evidence suggests is how it works in the overwhelming majority of cases) is quite clearly illegal, but is pretty hard to argue as theft (no one is being deprived of anything). If the fact that it's criminal is enough for you to condemn it then... you have to take the same line against people in the US and Japan installing DVD codecs on Linux which is exactly the same issue.
Whether it's immoral is a more interesting question and really hinges on whether harm is done. It's argued both ways by boths sides but the less biased research tends to suggest that it does more good than harm. With games, for example, more people playing a game and spreading the word about how great this game is obviously reseults in more sales than had those people not had access to that game. I very strongly suspect that this is the general pattern - that piracy does more (economic, for the people who made the thing) good than harm.
This one is probably correct. I'm sure it would be initially damaging if members of the Free Software movement expressed any allegiance with pro-piracy positions. Having said that... if that's the only reason not to, that's a bit cowardly. It's a complex debate and it's important. If you're not addressing that complexity then I suspect you risk being sidelined. Even those who remain anti-piracy should surely be reaching out to the vast numbers of people who are comfortable with casual piracy and saying "there's another way...".
This is probably valid but again a bit mercenary. See 3., really.
And this is the complex one and by far the most important, I think.
Of course piracy doesn't deal with the issue of opening source, that is undeniable. But I think it's more complex than that, I'll have to come back to that.
And Free Software has at its core, I think, the notion that it's better to share than to artificially restrict. That sharing is a better thing to do, as a person, than not sharing.. That's the assumption upon which everything else is built.
Piracy is not ideological like Free Software. Piracy is more democratic (in the true sense (i.e. anarchistic)). So piracy doesn't start from 'a position' - it just a particular collection of activities which are technologically possible but proscribed by laws. But I think it can be said to 'say' something when you see a predominance of usage patterns - people can be said to be 'saying something' through their uncoordinated actions.
The primary of these must be: There should no restrictions on availability of culture. Culture should be free to all people regardless of location or ability to pay.
I find that hard to condemn, it's the same motivation which prompted us to build public libraries in previous centuries. The idea that it's somewhat immoral to arbitrarily exclude people from our culture.
Secondly it's a valid market expression. It's people being alienated by DRM and making a free choice to pirate, rather than buy, games and films (for example) with overly restrictive DRM as both a protest and to avoid rewarding those who do such things. Refusing to engage economically with companies who have no respect for their customers as people.
Companies who start with the premise that people are untrustworthy get punished for it. Companies who start with the premise that people can be trusted get rewarded (those who offer support for pirated copies of their game (it's happened) or those who release pirate versions of their games themselves (also happened)). Those who engage with the idea that 'culture should be free as in freedom and we trust you to pay us for our work, rather than for every free-to-produce-copy that is made, if you can and feel we deserve it' tend to prosper.
It's try before you buy. Avoiding paying money for something before you're sure you want it. Particularly important with applications and games, I think, where it's often hard to tell whether it will be useful/enjoyable until you've actually tried it. Of course there are (or used to be) demos and trials, but these are often not a true representation of the thing. (Which could pejoratively be put: avoiding being conned).
I think all of these expressions are pretty in-line with what's at the heart of the Free Software movements. Not the methods, just the principles of sharing and operating in a respectful way. Te stuff being shared is still closed and proprietary of course, but here's where I think it gets complex...
My (you will be glad to hear) Conclusion:
The more people engage with casual piracy, the more they think in terms of it being natural to share. Sharing, rather than restricting and commodifying, becomes the norm. From this hard-to-criticise-point it's a much easier job to then say: "well, you've got free access to this stuff, and that's right and natural. But can you alter it? Can you remix it? Can you modify it to your needs? Isn't that a fundamental part of sharing? Isn't that how culture works when it's Free?".
And as I said earlier, proprietary people aren't against freedom, they're pro getting paid. If they've survived rampant piracy and been made to realise that people will still pay even when they can freely copy stuff, or if they've found another way to get paid then... the pressure to protect their source code largely disappears.
This is a cultural 'battle', not a legal one. The more people are acculturated into this 'weaker' form of Freedom, the more receptive (and equipped to actually understand) the stronger form they will be.
I'm certainly not suggesting that 'the enemy of our enemy is our friend' - I don't see it that way at all. I think proprietary ways of thinking are a bad model (by which I mean I don't think it's a good way to make money and I believe it harms us culturally) which we've stumbled into through a few accidents of history and some people and companies are trapped in. I think piracy takes us half way to where we're trying to get to and says a lot we agree with.
I think of the Free Software movement doesn't start engaging openly with piracy (not necessarily supporting or condoning but discussing - talking about the effects it's having, which are good and which bad, what it's doing right and what wrong etc.) then it risks being left behind in a culture where everything's free-of-charge if you want it for nothing, but nothing is open. In other words: there's an actual cultural debate going on and I feel like we're sitting on the sidelines hoping to be noticed rather than wading in and telling people what we're about.
Caveats and stuff
Despite the above I'm not sure I'm pro piracy as such. I just think there's a lot going on right now which is very pertinent to the fundamental aims of Free Software, but I'm seeing no discussion of that.
I concentrate a bit on games. That's just because that's what I know about. I also think games are going to be hugely culturally important.
I'm not against people getting paid for their work. I'm against people getting paid for making copies of other peoples' work for free and then making a business out of selling those copies. There are other ways, the Humble Indie Bundles being a prime example. Also democratised patronage is interesting.
Apology for length and expression of hope that I have not bored you or posted something utterly inappropriate
I'm sorry for the length of this. I also hope that I have not bored you too much or posted something utterly inappropriate.
I'm just interested in what you, as a representative cross-section of Linux-using, Free Software loving humans think about this stuff. It's debated endlessly in gaming communities, of course, but I think it actually matters far less to games than it does to Free Software.
If you got this far, even by skimming (I don't blame you): Thank you for your time!