Why pirate when there's so much free stuff out there

An IDC study for the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has highlighted the cost of software piracy to the UK economy. 27% of installed PC software is unlicensed; a 10% reduction in piracy would contribute £4.5 billion to the UK economy, according to the BSA.

People should pay for commercial software. My issue here is that there’s a heck of a lot of excellent free, open source and shareware out there, so why risk running illegal software?

The BSA members include large, powerful commercial software companies, who obviously want to make sure they get the license fees they are owed.

But why bother considering commercial software when there are many good alternatives? BSA member Microsoft sells Office. If you can’t afford to pay £300 for it, use OpenOffice or even Google Apps. Chances are, if you don’t see the benefit in buying commercial software – namely the support that comes with a commercial product – then you can probably get away with free or open source alternatives.

Another BSA member, Adobe, sells PhotoShop. Thanks to the nation’s growing interest in digital photography, it’s heavily pirated. But GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program), the open source imaging tool is said to be just as powerful, and it’s free. So, unless the software is critical to your business, and you need the support of a global IT company, why bother with Adobe or Microsoft. There are plenty of freebie, open source or low-cost shareware alternatives for enthusiasts or light users.

The BSA is campaigning for the government to strengthen IP damages law and for the public sector to use legitimate software. The BSA says the government would receive £1 billion in tax duties if software piracy was reduced by 10%. As a taxpayer, I would prefer to see public sector organisations look seriously at open source and low-cost alternatives to established commercial products

I believe the open source and shareware model for software licensing are superior to current commercial models. First, the software is distributed over the Internet, which saves on distribution costs. Second, if people find the product useful they will use it and will see the benefit of paying for extra support. Third, unlike commercial software, where companies hire large sales teams and account managers who are paid commission on how much product they can get the customer to buy, there is no need for a sales team.

Darwinism exists in the free, open source and shareware market. If people like the product, they will download it and – because it is free or very cheap – they will tell their friends, colleagues and business associates.

Look at MySQL, which Sun has just paid over $1 billion for. Such a product sells by word of mouth. So rather than paying a field or tele-sales team, the software developer can focus on making better software and developing value-added services.

Some will argue that this is fine for simple products for small companies and home users, but it is not scaleable. Well IBM supports open source, and they don’t get much bigger or as blue chip as Big Blue and its multi billion pound Global Services business..

So long as software is considered expensive compared to the perceived user benefit, people will continue to buy pirated copies. The industry is always trying to sell solutions and the solution to software piracy is easy: either make substantially better software, which really does offer huge user benefits, or make products that are licence-free, open source or very low cost shareware.