The Connection Between Free Software and Piracy

In every major culture, there are subcultures. Within those subcultures, you may find other, smaller, groups interested in something that seems completely unrelated to the larger group. An individual may tell you they hate loud music but later you catch them rocking out to AC/DC. These aren't contradictions. They are non-intersecting curves of interest that have nothing to do with each other. Or to put it another way, one doesn't have anything to do with the other.

So it is with cultures of freedom. In the free and open source community, we toss around the expressions "Free as in speech" and "Free as in Beer". That's because free isn't always a question of cost. When referring to software, somebody might give you a live Ubuntu Linux CD just as a friend might hand you a beer at a party. It didn't cost you anything and you get to enjoy your drink, or software, as the case may be, without shelling out some money. In the case of your software, you also have the freedom to make additional copies and hand them out to other friends. Once the beer is gone, it's gone. But I digress . . . Legally. If you are technically inclined, the source code is available and suddenly, you have the freedom to modify or extend the software in ways that are useful to you and others.

That's the cool thing about a Linux distribution like Ubuntu.

On the other hand, you can't legally make a copy of Microsoft Windows 7 and hand it to your friends. The terms of the license under which Microsoft Windows is distributed makes this illegal. It's also called piracy. As with cultures and subcultures, there are many opinions about piracy and you'll find many opinions regarding issues like cost and just how harmful 'a little piracy' actually is. That holds true in groups of students, business people, free software enthusiasts, proprietary software designers, and so on. The proprietary software designer may tell you that piracy is bad but then goes home and downloads a movie via Bittorrent. Meanwhile, the free software advocate may be a staunch and vocal supporter of copyright.

There's an article over on Advogato that talks about the overlap between 'pirate' parties and FLOSS groups, asking "Should FLOSS and free culture advocates embrace pirates as comrades in arms or condemn them? Must we choose between being either with the pirates or against them? " The author then goes on to say, "Our communities seem to have no clearly and consistently articulated consensus. "

To which I reply, "Why should they? " While some pirates may be FLOSS advocates and some FLOSS advocates may be pirates, one doesn't necessarily imply the other. Some FLOSS advocates embrace copyright and would never knowingly pirate software or media while others who embrace copyright and denounce piracy aren't FLOSS advocates. There is no reason to suggest that the free and open source community needs to speak in one voice regarding these issues.

But perhaps it already does. Perhaps the statement is implicit in the software and its license.

I personally do not believe that people should be making or using illegal copies of software. If you want to run Microsoft Office, buy a copy (you can get a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 from for just under $397.00 US). If you want to run any commercial software package that isn't distributed free of charge under a free software license, then you should pay for it. If you don't want to pay for your operating system, download a copy of Ubuntu or Kubuntu and you won't have to pay for it. Best of all, it's an all around better choice than WIndows 7 and it comes with a full office suite that reads and writes Microsoft documents. You'll work faster, better, and you'll enjoy a secure system when you connect to the Internet. And did I mention it's free? Legally free?

Microsoft claims it had lost many billions of dollars because of people running illegal versions of various Microsoft software packages. That purported loss implies, of course, that every person in the world who has a non-legit copy of Windows (or Microsoft Office or whatever else) would have bought that copy of the software. We've all known people who run pirated software on their computers; the truth here is is that if those people hadn't gotten their 'borrowed ' copy of Office from another persons, they would never have spent the hundreds of dollars to buy their copy of Microsoft Windows or Office. They run the software precisely because they were able to get it free .

Some will argue that the piracy Microsoft claims has cost them all those billions has actually contributed to making them and their operating as successful as it is. Neither argument is important to the discussion of whether FLOSS should take a position on piracy. It's simpler than that. People should abide by the licenses that come with their software . If the software comes with a license that says you can make copies and distribute it free of charge (like Ubuntu), then by all means do so. If the license says you have to pay for it, then pay for it.

If everyone in the world ran only legal copies of software, paying for it when the creator asks, the world would be a better place, largely because Microsoft would not be the behemoth that it is. Better, and truly free operating systems and software, like the Kubuntu system on which I am writing this post, would be more common on the desktop and portable computers of the world.

There is no connection between truly free software and piracy. They are non-intersecting curves.


Is piracy wrong?

Yes it is. But in third world countries like Lebanon where DVD's are not available legally, you are kind of forced to pirate your movies and software. The US has also placed sanctions on Lebanon when it comes to certain software "in order to stop the terrorists". When you are forced to do it you simply are.

title potential

The title being "There is no connection..." rather than "The connection..." would prevent your message being 'subject spammed' in appearing to be one thing but actually being something else.

Leave no ambiguity if you want your message to be clear.

Translation of your article

Hi, Marcel.

I need to translate your article and publish on my site, ; can you give me permission? Thanks!


Wow, great article!

FOSS is the higher standard that gets a bumm reputation

I enthusiastically suppost FOSS and Freedom but respect Copyright, to me its all about principles and there lack thereof in modern society. We should all try to Do the Right Thing and if someone says that sounds so lame, my mind they need to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves if they believe they should only profit from society or also be responsibe for contributing back to it. The business world all too frequently seems to beleive only the former.. they lobby politicians billions of dollars to not believe the later.. and the net result is that commercial media, purchased with those billions, touts corrupted points of view and advertises to the masses .. "its sooo uncool to be socially active, be a winner instead" Well, I don't toss garbage out the window and I don't use garbage for software, and I recommend others do the same. ...but a little side note, can we have consensus on a few anacronyms like FOSS / FLOSS, or is there a difference?

Don't bumm around with software. Do the right thing

Divided We Stand

FOSS has little to fear from piracy, with or without copyright. Pirates in general are naturally more interested in the "free as in beer" aspect of software.They have no claim, nor malicious intent toward the "free as in freedom" one. They are against copyright mainly due to the restrictions on the "copy" part; and FOSS has few of those.

Moreover, since pirates are usually more tech-savvy, there is a greater chance of them showing interest and eventually switching to FOSS, simply because they could make the effort to discover and adopt it.

Another moreover is the fact that patent and copyright licenses have begun to seriously trouble the development of FOSS, haven't they? If, by such logic, FOSS is deemed "illegal" , then what? The FOSS community will be in the same pickle as the pirates, not through a fault of their own, but because of increasingly unfair laws.

For now, however, it is best to leave both areas divided, whatever implicit support they may provide for each other. Both have their own controversies to deal with, and mixing them at this time will most likely be counterproductive.

Copyright debate

The average author in Germany made more money in the 18th century WITHOUT copyright compared to the average author in the United Kingdom who with copyright. Copyright was good for a SMALL minority of superstar authors in a similar way of that rule by Kings/Queens/Dukes/Earls/Barons was good for a small minority.

One of the causes of the French revolution was the control of the printing presses by Kings. All items had to be approved otherwise they were "pirate books". Pirate books with new ideas flooded France and attempts to control the population failed.

The book linked below was written over about 8 years while the author tried to find peer-reviewed (ie. universities) articles that proof the benefits of copyright and patents. Over the last 100 years almost all have shown copyrights and patents have a NEGATIVE economic impact.

Greatest Posion to FOSS is Copyright Infringement.

We truth of the matter. FOSS depends on Copyright to exist in a lot of cases.

Compare BSD based OS's and Linux based OS's. Linux OS have grown more. This is directly linked to GPL that uses Copyright to require companies to give back. I am sorry but most people who do Copyright Infringement don't give back.

Team up with people doing Copyright Infringement no way in hell. Also beware that Bill Gates himself says it simple to compete and beat FOSS software when people are doing Copyright Infringement.

The results of Copyright Infringement is many times worse to FOSS than what it is to Companies like Microsoft.

The pirate party talks about junking Copyright. Junk Copyright the worst effected item is FOSS. Companies just release closed products from then on. Yes you might be able to duplicate it but when you need support you have to feed from the source company. FOSS the key bit is source code. Source code allows you to take care of yourself.

Yes its the classic a person steal a loaf of bread or learn how to make bread. Copyright Infringement gets you Bread that will feed them today but they will have to go out and steal more and more. Foss teaches you how to make bread so can feed you for ever.

People who think piracy is fine cannot see that is only short term gain.

No Intersection Here Either

@Marco: The Free Software and Free Culture movements have some ideological points in common, but neither is connected to illegal downloading any more than FL/OSS is to piracy. The idea that copyright is disparaged by these movements is largely FUD slung by parties who are threatened by truly Free/Libre software and culture. (I say "largely" because you can always find counter examples in such heterogenous and notoriously independent communities.) A recent article by Cory Doctorow i puts the case better than I can :

Free SW supporters should explain that piracy of music and movies is counterproductive!

The overwhelming majority of illegal downloads of music and movies is not simply illegal. It is plainly and simply very stupid, because it is very counterproductive. By this I mean that bulimic dowloadings are the best possible support one could give to the majors that promote dangerous treaties like ACTA. Because you create for them the numbers that they can use to justify such proposals. Stop downloading for 6 months and they won't have any excuse left and their stock will fell through the floor. If end users (and many Free Culture intellectuals) had followed this strategy ten years ago, instead of giving sermons from assorted pulpits on how stupid any copyright is, we would have already solved this problem. All this is better explained in this example:

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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