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"Hit Pirates Where It Hurts Them Least"

It looks like organizations such as the Business Software Alliance have been busy. Passing through IRC like any other mildly interesting story, there have been reports of organizations clamping down on piracy. That's nothing abnormal, but now it seems BSA and its cohorts have decided not to hit hardest with their argument against piracy, but to go after the little people, the college students and IRC'ers, in an attempt to make a powerful statement -- we will not tolerate piracy any longer!

It had people talking. For a day.

Also, I believe it was Case Western that recently shut down a whole bunch of students' HTTP servers because they were serving MP3s off them. This isn't the first university to institute such a policy (UT Austin has a pretty fierce resnet administration), but it was still big because it was actually someone doing something about pirating.

The whole thing is full of shit if you ask me. This is a move of desperation on the part of anti-piracy groups. They're getting nowhere prosecuting the actual malicious piraters and so they're going after virtually defenseless college kids and IRC junkies.

NoPiracy.com is one rallying cry for the Business Software Alliance. In its self-patting on the back after shutting down a popular IRC network warez4cable, which I believe specialized in serving up games via automated bots, it added this: "Additionally, preliminary investigation reveals that traffic in other warez sites has been significantly reduced."

I don't care if you've never touched IRC in your life, but you know this isn't true.

Piracy flows free for all types of media. The latest DJ mixes and music albums hit the 'Net before they're officially released. The same with computer games and software. Movies take only a little more time. There are sophisticated distribution and cracking groups to handle all this. There are complex distribution sites and whatnot. I am of course not privy to any of this, but you figure this is what's going on.

And whether it's right or not doesn't really matter -- piracy will always continue, especially when it's so easy and the product is in so much demand.

Which makes going after kids so stupid. Kids aren't going to stop pirating. Hell, they just get even more pissed off at authorities and developers/distributors/labels. It's like stepping on an anthill and expecting all the surviving ants to run away for good. You go after the queens, not the drones.

And even going after the queens seems stupid. I mean, the nature of digital media is to be copied. You cannot change that. You cannot control that (although maybe with quantum encryption). Media is meant to be copied. Instead of trying to fight the flow, companies and organizations are trying to stop it, just like companies like Microsoft tried to stop the Internet, and big investment firms tried to downplay discount brokerages. You can't stop the inevitable.

You can, however, go along with it, and find new ways to profit more efficiently and fairly from it. Companies should find new ways to capitalize on MP3s and DVDs and games and whatnot. Good heavens, they'd even be bucking the trend and opening themselves up to untapped sources of income! But no, that seems too difficult to comprehend.

Instead organizations like the BSA plod along, with utterly disgusting and disconnected "It's Okay to Pay!" banners, which would make any self-respecting kid puke. It's the equivalent of Smokey the fucking Bear trying to stop kids from setting forest fires. Most kids just want to punch him in the crotch.

It's the old guard versus the new guard. The old guard can't comprehend a world that the new guard is bringing in.

The old guard is doing things like bringing damages against hospitals for having illegal licenses for their software. The BSA sure had good intentions, didn't it? By choosing a random place like a hospital, by getting their point across, they took about $250K out of a budget that could be used for healing sick people. It's like policemen going after jaywalkers in a neighborhood of crackhouses and drive-bys.

(After I wrote this, this article about Napster came out in which the RIAA sued Napster, a program which allows people to connect to a database and find songs on other users' hard drives and then download them. The RIAA is seeking $100K in damages for each transferred song. Napster will never be able to pay this back. Countless songs have been downloaded through Napster. The damages are ridiculous. And it doesn't punish any of the users of Napster. You'd think Napster would receive the same protection as an ISP, in which it is not held liable for its users' content, when it is just helping users distribution information amongst themselves. Why doesn't the RIAA go after the users themselves? Dumb.

Read this choice quote from the article: ''"It is the single most insidious Web site I've ever seen--it's like a burglar's tool," Ron Stone, a representative from artists' agency Gold Mountain Management, said in a statement.'' Napster isn't a web site. It's a fucking application. Idiot.

There are ways to combat software duplication of course, but it implies that you must provide something beyond what plain music or software can give a customer. Take, for example, the precedent started by Half-Life and Starcraft, and more recently by Quake 3 Arena. All these games use online key verification, which means if you want to play online (and by these games' nature, you WILL want to play online), you need to have a unique key that checks out with the master server owned and operated by the company. Groups cannot hack this encryption beyond letting people play the game offline. They cannot fight the server-side encryption. As a result, people are more likely to buy the game because they don't get the full value of the game unless they do.

Which is not to say hackers haven't tried to get these games to work. One Half-Life scam was that someone set up a fake e-mail account and said it was from Valve Software (the maker of the game) asking for people to send their keys to that account. Valid keys instantly snagged. For Quake 3 Arena, people are going to the store, opening up boxes, and writing down the keys off the jewel cases. They're also creating trojan applications to pass around online which send keys to the malicious developer.

This is the way it goes. Warfare. Developers versus the players. Arguably, the games that implement keys lose out because people gripe about them and it rubs off badly on the company. Plus, fewer people are playing the game, hampering its durability and community. It might even reduce the company's overall profit off the game, because of the previous reasons.

But whatever. Groups like the RIAA and BSA have it set on their minds to do this the old fashioned way and they're fighting a losing battle. I'm not condoning warez and piracy -- I'm just saying that it's a fact of life now. You can't deny that. Deal with it and come up with new ways to profit.

Anti-piracy groups use bullshit arguments to strengthen their case. Of course, since no pirate or college kid believes in those arguments, they're turned off to it. Consider this, from nopiracy.com: "Piracy is like shoplifting: software manufacturers lose money when people steal their products. To stay in business, they must pass the cost on to consumers. Honest citizens end up paying higher prices, while thieves take advantage." There is no evidence to support this. It's theoretical. While there is obviously SOME lost profit, it by no means would match the fluffy numbers (nopiracy.com says $11 billion. Ohhkay.) anti-piracy people spew out. You can't even CALCULATE lost profit through piracy. You can only guess. More importantly, people will not USE your software if it's shitty, and if they DO use it, then they will support your company and be more likely to pay not only for that product, but future products. If there were no such thing as piracy, far far fewer people would EVER play the latest games, listen to the latest music, etc. They wouldn't spend the money for it. Attention and mindshare is the most important thing you could ever have as far as making money goes.

"You get no technical support or documentation -- no one to call when your system crashes." Except hundreds of thousands of people online? Your friends? Message boards? Company site forums?

"You put yourself at risk of a fatal system crash. Viruses are prevalent -- counterfeit software could destroy your computer." The piracy scene doesn't release bogus shit.

"You'll miss out on upgrades." The upgrades are cracked as well and uploaded immediately.

Fact is, most of the distribution going on is FREE and not for profit. The EVIL people are the ones who make money off pirating. But most people just want to listen to the damn music, play the damn game, try that shit out and see if it's good or not. The people who can pay for it surprisingly DO go out and buy it. I can't explain it, but people still do.

Again, I'm not justifying piracy. It's up to you whether you want to break the law. Even if it's outdated, it's still the law. And in fact, I can't stand people who try to justify their pirating. They try to make it sound like their reasons allow them to pirate. Instead of just acknowledging that what they're doing is legally wrong and doing it anyway.

As for me, well, I want to get my hands on everything, so I'll experiment with things. However, I still do buy a TON of things. Quake 3 Arena retail is waiting for me at home, and I have Gabriel Knight 3 right here, unopened, waiting until the Christmas break to play it. And I have a pile of albums I bought too. And I plan on getting DVD soon. I see the value in purchasing things I want. I know people who don't buy a single thing. Of course, they always buy hardware -- they don't steal THAT stuff. It's physical. Its nature is not to be duplicated. And so it goes. What are you going to do about it? Some people will pay, some will never pay.

There are better ways to solve this problem, but there's gonna be a lot of harmless people taken out in the struggle, before it's all said and done.

Eventually, they will find my view is right. Eventually, everyone will be fairly compensated. As it is now, that is not the case. Anti-piracy groups won't talk about that, because they know they're wrong. How long will they resist?

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