How To Reduce Software Piracy

CoinsA couple days back, I bought the kids a copy of Plants vs Zombies, upon the urging of their uncle. I’ve heard about the game and how addicting it could be. And the kids have started having a fascination with zombies, as they’ve recently discovered the late Michael Jackson and his Thriller buddies.

The damage? Just PhP 199, or just about $4.25 or so. Reasonable enough. Checkout and download was quite easy, too. I just keyed in my PayPal username and password, and the system paid PopCap from my PayPal balance.

In my country, piracy rate is at about 90%. You still see a lot of stalls and even ambulant vendors selling warez and pirated DVDs. I think it’s ingrained in our culture that something that is not tangible like software or entertainment should be free.

I’m of the opinion that people are, by nature, good. We don’t necessarily want to steal stuff. It’s just that when things are inaccessible, inexpensive and inconvenient to acquire legally that people resort to other means, like buying pirated installers, DVDs, or downloading these off of the Internet. But if you make things cheap and accessible enough, then you should be able to expect some reduction in the incidence of piracy.

Take for instance locally-published or distributed DVDs. Stores like Astrovision sell these legally for about PhP 200 to PhP 300, or so (depending on the publisher and the popularity). Sure, it’s still a heftier price than, say, the PhP 60 you pay the neighborhood pirate stall for a “DVD quality” movie. But the piece of mind and the assurance of quality you get is a definite advantage for that small price to pay.

Or consider how local software stores that have reduced their prices just so softwares and games can be accessible to the common citizen without deep pockets. Last month I bought a copy of the Sims 3 for the wife and kids, and it cost me about PhP 1,400, which is a small amount compared to how much the old versions retailed a few years back.

And then there’s the matter of convenience. Take for instance National Bookstore, which has recently started selling BitDefender at local, reasonable prices. Considering the number of National Bookstore branches around the country, that makes it easier for people without broadband Internet access or credit card/PayPal accounts to purchase software legally.

If you make it easy, convenient, and accessible enough for people to legally acquire something, then it makes no sense to steal. I understand that software authors, publishers and distributors have to make a living. But in some markets, it makes sense to find a balance. If you know your basic economics, then if you price something optimally, you would be at a point where profit is at a maximum. This is something that businesses should consider. Learn from the iTunes model. Learn from the Apple App store model. Sell everything for a dollar and you get millions of buyers, thus earning you your millions. Sell something for a few hundred bucks, and you might get a few buyers, and a handful of freely and illegally-distributed copies.

Again, there has to be balance.

Or sometimes you have to find an alternative business model. Free is the in thing nowadays, and people have been growing rich essentially giving away stuff for free. Companies have thrived on advertising as a business model. Some have succeeded in subsidizing free services from their other revenue-generating businesses.

I don’t think software piracy can be totally obliterated. The concept of distributing software freely–even though against the license–is as old as software itself, if not older. But it can definitely be reduced. It would require a change in mindset on the part of both a software user and a software maker or seller. In the end, everyone should be better off.

image credit: flickr/chrisjones

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