Arguments for piracy

piracyWhile Free and Open Source Software owes its birth to the fact that people wanted an open source platform that they could modify, it owes its success to the fact that more often than not the software is given gratis. It is doubtful that people would have been drawn to Linux in droves if it was sold for a $300/per machine license.

In fact because of copy-left clauses in most open source software licenses-it is nigh impossible to pirate it since sharing the software is in fact legal and even encouraged. Conversely, most copyright owners have to take their fair share of blame for aiding piracy mostly through their unrealistic pricing models. Everyone has been so consumed, as they jostled to stand on the high moral grounds of their conscience, to blame the Pirate and his despicable deed of robbing the artists of their hard earned money that we all overlook the glaringly obvious. More often than not artists who are victims of piracy are the ones that charge unaffordable prices.

There is no reason why a music DVD should cost $5. When confronted Zimbabwean artists are quick to compare pointing out the fact that in other countries disks often costs more for example Alicia Keys DVD album sells for $22 excluding shipping on It would appear that $5 is less than $22 but nothing could be further from the truth. The average American has $48,112 to spent (GDP per capita) whilst by comparison the average Zimbabwean has $757 per year to spent-that is $63 per month. This before a person even pays their home rentals, so where then will people find the money to buy a $5 DVD? Confronted with this choice – whether to pay $5 or $0.50 for the same disk – it becomes a no brainer.


As the street vendors and Pirates have shown it is entirely possible to produce a music DVD for way less than the $5 retail price currently being charged. The total variable costs are around $0.25 yet these people in an attempt to leverage their obsolete selling networks continue to charge more. It is a common mistake to include the fixed production costs in the price of the DVD by the way.  Instead of selling in cozy shops which have to cover their expensive overheads musicians should try to sell their music through the same street vendors that Pirates use. Econet has used the vendor network to sell its airtime and lines with much success. This serves as proof that the vendor network is a legitimate and profitable network.

Microsoft recently launched its Office 2013 and Windows 8 products in Zimbabwe and allegedly plan to sell the latter for a sterling price of $375 through its partners. In the store Windows 8 sells for $139.99 and even if you were to pay $50 for shipping the entire cost would be $190.00 a good $185 savings since no duty is payable on IT products! I can imagine the rest goes to the mysterious partners mentioned in the article. In fact Windows 8 upgrade from XP/Vista/7 will cost only $100 from Amazon and $200 from Microsoft website. It seems insane to me that someone would charge $185 dollars more in a country which is poorer and 70% of the people live below the poverty datum line. If I did not know any better I would call this greed.

Instead of attending the official launch function and parroting the usual anti-piracy lines, the Australian government has summoned Apple, Adobe and Microsoft to explain why they price their products so much higher in Australia compared to the United States. This is despite a stronger Australian dollar. Instead of merely accepting these terms (the $375/license) the government should negotiate a better deal with for its citizens or if it is unwilling or unable at least subsidize the cost of the software. These companies need to appear before a Parliamentary portfolio committee and explain to our unschooled selves why a MacBook Pro which sells for $1,100 is sold for $4,500 here because I bet you if people could make a Pirate MacBook the streets would be filled with them. These companies are bullies and they need to be reined in.

According to a report by Reuters, some Apple products sell in Australia for as much as $40 above the price in the US despite the stronger local currency. Microsoft also sells its products for much more in Australia than it does in the US. The report says so far high local wages, import costs and market size (small that is) have been cited as the reason. I am sure they would find something to blame in Zimbabwe as well although I doubt import costs will make it onto the list given that duty was scrapped a long time ago on IT products. In any case why do they have to bring the software as disks when they could cheaply duplicate the disks locally for twoppence? As for the ridiculous small market reason it does not even make sense.

So why does the iPad sell for $1300 in Zimbabwe more than double the price in America? This is one of the reasons why I cheer at Samsung products even when people say they are cheap imitations of Apple products or not as cool as one UK court has ruled. Even though patent infringements are the equivalent of piracy this does not bother me at all.

The way I see it neither Microsoft nor Apple have lost any significant income as a result of patent infringement or software piracy because only a few (to none) could afford their products in the first place. People would have resorted to other alternatives instead of purchasing these expensive licenses. How would a man explain a $375 Windows 8 license expense on the bank statement to his wife? The answer is he will not even have to explain anything since he earns way below $375 anyway and is thus unable to blow any of it on the Windows 8 license.

Now the sum of the matter is: although software Pirates are no doubt criminals who deserve to be punished, the excessive and suicidal prices and conditions exerted by copyright holders mitigate the gravity of the Pirate’s crimes. In truth the fact that these same copyright holders already have a differential pricing scheme that is the reverse of what it should be, i.e. charge the poor less and the rich more, it came be argument they themselves are criminals. The least these “victims” can be charged with is unethical behavior.

I feel copyright holders, artists and software houses like Microsoft, have themselves to blame for the success of the Pirate industry in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. What do you think? If you can be quick about it people I need to find me a pirate copy of Office 2013. 😉

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33 thoughts on “Arguments for piracy

  1. I agree with you. Due to their prices we won’t be able to own even a second hand desktop machine. I can not afford $4875 for 13 Pcs just for licenses only and about other gadgets?

  2. A reason why piracy exists in the music industry is because a you mentioned in your article I quote “obsolete selling networks continue to charge more” which is infact true. There are very few studios will to create like an online catalogue for artists be it a local online portal or something as sophisticated as itunes, on top of that even if you could acquire the content online each $1 on mobile internet gets you just 10mb or less which turns out be one song or less depending on file size and audio quality. Now for a $1 you can get an entire discography of an artist which does kill creativity however what options are people left with, look to the side or indulge in a pirated version the dilemma is real and needs a holistic approach before we can see reform.

  3. “it is entirely possible to produce a music DVD for way less than the $5 retail price currently being charged”. Really? So pirates can pay for entire production crews, writers, marketing teams, designers and so on with 50c a disc? Lets not be delusional here. The only reason pirates can “produce” a DVD for next to nothing is because that’s the sum total of their investment! And if the only value you see is in the physical media and not the content then, my friends, we are truly lost.

  4. As long as I get what I want, the solution to the disadvantaged is left to those affected. I cant be be concerned by things that affect others. This is economic sense (read a book “Freakononics_ covers how it works in drugs, cheating etc)”

    1. By this logic I can walk into your house, take all your stuff and leave you, the ‘affected’, to come up with a ‘solution’ and its all good coz hey, I got what I ‘wanted’!

      1. yes, you can walk through and get my household stuff, if as the “affected”, I don’t look for a security solution- That’s why I have invested in a rapid response security (small scale security) as a “solution” . Though at a large scale, security is a public good. So by the same logic, mass piracy should be dealt with by the state as a public good. As a benefactor, I will continue to enjoy pirated stuff until the cost/ consequences of doing so exceed my benefit

  5. Hear hear, well said. This filters across a such wide range of industries. Multinationals have no problem ripping off the small guys while cozying up to decision makers and buying them lunches. How can we then expect the same minister to ask the tough questions? We could reasonably expect to have wider access to IT products for the average Farai on the street in Zimbabwe if it was not for these deliberately punitive pricing models. Instead of channels providing genuine products to end users direct from the manufacturer its just a chain of hungry middlemen who are charged fees to be partners and then are allowed to sell the products,” officially”. An MFP printer online to end users in the UK is 99 Pounds but USD 450 in Harare through the local dealer. Its madness! Get in touch with the UK dealer and he will tell you his contract does not allow him to sell to outside the UK. Peter Tosh said, “poor man feel it”.

  6. LOL. Brilliant article. I will never part with 375USd whan i can save me 350USD on the same deal. all i have to do is wait until all the excitement is over then upgrade. Sounds devilish though these pricing models from hell. And the bad thing is that sometimes we accept it. I’m using a Gtel phone with android 4point something for 190USD because it works and saves me a packet!!!! I can not wait for the day someone in China can make a pirate Macbook Pro!!!! Power to the people!!!!!

  7. First and foremost our ICT ministry should be renamed to something like representative of big IT companies, or to discard the who ministry because up to now it have done nothing worth talking for. It seems like it specialise in getting other ministers iPads, laptops and all others goodies and getting invited to flashy hotels for launches.

    Second, we Zimbos we need to understand the difference between US dollar and our gone Zimdollar. Most of us seems to be stuck in those days of “burning” dollar and being a millionare in minutes.

  8. I wounder how much it costs microsoft to copy a windows 8 disk and allocate a valid serial number?

  9. Pirating software is theft, period! There has never been justification for theft, especially when there is a free alternatives. I write software for windows and I expect clients to pay for my software and for MS software. In fact I refuse to install my software without seeing the MS licensing arrangement .Pricing varies and is based on market size, distributorship markups etc. If you guys love free software you are free to use it. You are also free to complain about the price of software that is for sale. But to justify theft……. now that is unacceptable.

    1. What is theft is Microsoft charging me more that what their charging people that earn way more than me in America. People like you that don’t bother fighting for us less fortunate and rather fight on the side of the big corporations are the cause of wide spread piracy.

      1. I fight for the less fortunate, I don’t twist the word theft to mean some illogical statement like the one you have made. Just check the meaning of the word in the dictionary rather come up with philosophical nothingness like you have just done,

        1. $375 really!!! George Eliot once said ” The law is for raskills (rascals.)” Personally I do not care for a law that discriminates against one class of people. Have you ever heard of Apartheid? It was legal those days but someone stood up against the status quo.

          1. I don’t think 375 is too much for software like windows 8. I have seen software that does a lot less that windows 8 costing a lot more. We can argue about it until the cows come home, for me that price is realistic. The discrimination is based on the number of copies that channel partners will sell within their geographic area. If they are likele to sell 100 000 copies, then the software costs less than in an area where they will sell 1000. So do not mix the discriminatory pricing with based on volumes with discrimination based on race. There is no argument for theft. The title of your post is unethical. It promotes debate, but it does nothing for advancing ethical behavior. In the open source vs proprietory software, open source pundits have added justification of theft in their vocabulary. I condemn that.

      2. If you have tonnes of maize, I come and take one kg then you will not be stranded. Then using your logic I have not stolen. The nature of software (and muzic) is that there is a finite set of buyers out there. For each buyer, I make a copy which I sell to him/her. If a copy is made illegally and used (or sold), then that is theft. Piracy is theft. You steal you are arrested, you pirate you are arrested. You can argue about the legal niceties of the word theft. In the eyes of the owner of the IP, you pirate, you steal. I have used this analogy when discussing compliance and corporate ethics with CEOs and no one has queried that because they understand the implications of piracy. I believe that techies need to take a course on ethics. Most MBA modules have an ethics course and since MBAs are all over Zim, then maybe ask for a copy of the ethics module from an MBA you know.

    2. Piracy is not theft: it’s… piracy. Theft implies denying the legitimate owner possession, and piracy is simply making a(n unauthorised) copy. If I steal your bike, you’d be stranded; if I were to make a copy of your bike, you’d still be cycling.

      I’m not justifying piracy, I’m merely clarifying that it is not the same as theft, no matter how frequently people say it.

  10. Don’t forget the actual software or media kit is not illegal to share or
    download, anyone can download or share software free of charge legally
    the issue comes on how you then decide to keep using the product, others
    decide to buy a genuine license key and activate their product and
    others use cracks to activate. The point i was making was regardless of
    were you are in the world you have access to the software at the same
    price which is FREE. So the only thing Microsoft is actually selling is
    the license keys. So if its just the key their selling why are we paying more that everyone else?

    1. You got it wrong. The microsoft selling strategy begins with downloading and is completed with getting the key. Anytime before the key, the user can evaluate and decide not to complete the purchase by discontinuing use of the product and not getting the key. So you are not paying just for the key. You are paying for the software. There is FREE software and its called open source. If you do not like MS, then please use open source for free. Do not steal proprietary stuff, That makes you a thief! Supporting thieves makes you guilty by association. Please promote use of FREE open source. Do not try to justify thuggery by saying MS products are expensive.

      1. But MS products ARE expensive! Don’t get me wrong i don’t support piracy or “Thuggery” as you put it but i don’t support getting ripped off either. All I’m saying is Microsoft can’t cry foul for us having such a high percent of pirated software when they don’t bother meeting us half way. You and sent comments the whole day everyday but its not going to change anything because piracy is here and its not going anywhere. Microsoft needs to sit down and come up with the better plan for Africa and stop thinking profit only starts after 1 billion.

        1. I author software and e-learning resources for a living. I am also finalizing a number of books for publication. I have a patent application for a strategy framework lodged with the Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Office (ZIPO). In June 2010 I was sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission For Africa (UNECA) to attend Science with Africa II conference in Addis Ababa where for three days we deliberated on strategies for commercializing African Research and Development. So for me discussing about IP theft becomes personal. I however hope that in my postings, at least one person will take note, change their behaviors thus contribute in one small way to making Africa also a player in the IP market. Believe it or not, developed countries protect their IP and thus develop a market for their products. You might like to know that some Zim guys are working on including IP/ethics/etc as a subject starting in grade 5. I hope they succeed.

          1. U might want to knw 2 things my friend: If your books are good they will be photocopied and sold on the street. If your books are expensive then pirated copies will get more revenue than you will get.

      2. Well said Chanyane and i second your opinion. Yes MS products are expensive. If one cant afford them then go for the OS alternative.

        Far fetched but then If you cant afford a ticket to Byo from Hre by Intercity isnt the noble thing to use cheaper buses.

  11. uku kunyepa ini my opinion. People every are so much interested to have something original but if the price forbids they are bound to compromise and those who truly can interpret the market can therefore see a chance to make a buck out of the situation.

    It is unfortunatee that the music industry in this country is being run by backward minded, profit hungry individuals who are slow to interpret the dynamics of business and hence forth they will lose out the battle.

    Technology yakauya kuzo benefitter vanhu iyi ende ndizvo zvicharamba zvichiitika izvozvo.

    1Ch:12:32: And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.

    if you do not understand the times unovengera vanhu mahara shamwari.

      1. I might not knw a lot abt scriptures but I knw wen JC and his disciples were hungry one Sabbath the disciples took wheat frm someone’s field and ate it. Violating two laws and his reply ” Laws are made for humans not humans for laws” In the words of one judge ” when the law is an arse; someone needs to kick it! Do u knw Abe Lincoln ended slavery by bribing some members of Congress?

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