Software Piracy: Black Beard & Captain Kidd!

  Joe Wilkins       March 7, 2007      Tutorials Mac Developer

In keeping with a recent article about piracy in the Runtime Revolution Newsletter, I’ve chosen to reprint an article I wrote in 2000 for the original Macinstruct website. It is still quite relevant and on target. Last week’s Code Mojo article presented me with significant issues - more than I had originally thought - but I will be back next week reviewing some of the scripting that was done in the Coloring Book application. -Joe

Real or fictional? Sinister or comical? Pirates are no joke! They do serious harm! An act of piracy is committed when someone takes anything that isn’t theirs and uses it for their own purposes. It seems different than outright stealing; but, for the life of me, I don’t see how or why! Once upon a time, such acts were performed only on the high seas; while today’s pirates perform theirs over the Internet, not the ocean waves.

The modern pirate is fettered with neither eye patches nor peg-legs, though the eyes do blur at times and the legs go to sleep from lack of use. Using computer software without a proper, valid authorization, a license, is an act of piracy. Software pirates are every bit as bad as those who hold up banks or liquor stores at gun point. In some respects they are even worse, since they rarely get caught, are rarely prosecuted, yet do severe, real damage to the lives of other people.

Why Am I Talking About Piracy on Macinstruct?

Because new Mac users frequent this site to learn about their Macs, and the use of Mac software, and that is what I am going to discuss. Piracy is but one of several important considerations to which many users are never adequately exposed. At this time I will cover copyrights and piracy. New, as you may be to the world of Mac software, you have most likely been exposed to situations in which you should have read a license agreement before clicking on a product installer’s “I Agree” button. If you are like most of us, you maybe read the first one you encountered, but have assumed that all of the others are “exactly” the same. That may not necessarily be the case.


Though there is no need to Register this type of software, it is a good idea to do so, since you may get a break on new versions if the owner chooses to change to shareware or commercial releases. You may, at least, be notified when new, free versions are issued. This software’s license probably comes with some limitations, so read the terms of the agreement. The usual limitations are that you may not sell it to anyone and, when you give it to someone, you must include all of the items that come with it - such as “Read Me” files. So, it is still possible to be guilty of pirating free software. You must obey the terms of your free license. In some cases you will not be allowed to include the product on software collection CDs that are sold for profit, but an email to the owner will usually get you permission to do so, as long as the proper recognition is provided and you send them a free copy of your CD. After all, “exposure and distribution” is the name of the game, and we all need as much of it as we can get.


When you pay the shareware fee, usually less than $25US, you will be registered and licensed by the owner of the product’s copyright, and often entitled to subsequent upgrades for free, or to minor upgrades for free, and major upgrades for a reduced fee. Again, read the terms of the agreement. Once more, even though you will actually be encouraged to pass the product along to your friends and associates, there are usually some limitations as to the manner in which you may do this. The same limitations I mentioned for freeware distribution normally apply to shareware as well. If you do not pay the shareware fee, and you use the product contrary to the licensing agreement, you have pirated the software. Most shareware permits you to use the product for some specified period of time to determine whether you wish to have a permanent license, or not. If you plan to leave it on your hard drive, you should pay the shareware fee - even if you only use it once in a blue moon, or on every February 29th.

Commercial Software

In most instances, you will pay for the product before you receive it and you may choose not to register with the owner if that is your pleasure, but I would again recommend that you do so. It is pretty difficult to “accidentally” pirate this kind of software. If a friend “loans” you a copy of one of their software products; or, heaven forbid, “sells” you a copy without providing everything that they acquired when purchasing it, and you do anything more than try it out - which I think is reasonable, though it may be against the letter of the licensee’s agreement, then you are using a pirated copy. Almost any reasonable software publisher will want you to demo their products with a friend, even to the extent of “loaning” them a copy, so long as they are told in no uncertain terms that they must purchase their own license if they decide to keep the product on their hard drive. I have mixed feelings about someone keeping a copy around on some removable media - just in case they eventually decide to license it. From a strictly legal point of view, I believe that would be piracy as well, but I think you may have to search your own conscience on this one. My feeling - just feeling mind you - is that if you produce something a second time using a product, then you must license it regardless of how you have it “hanging around.”

Copy Protection

First, the disclaimer. I am not an expert on copyright law, and have no training in that area. I do not pretend to offer legal advice on that or related subjects, though the reader may feel that I have and do. There are many views on these subjects. You might want to do a search for “copyrights” to check out the many diverse opinions regarding both copyrights and piracy. You will also find an interesting topic called “copylefts.” Regardless of how a product is distributed, all software was created by someone and is the intellectual property of the entity proclaiming the copyright on and/or in their software, or other work. It is not required that the item, claimed as the copyrighted property of that entity, be registered; but, in the case of disputes, registration makes the copyright entitlement much easier to prove, and subsequently enforced if need be. Registering a copyright does not need to be an expensive process handled by an attorney. You can do it yourself by completing the appropriate forms and paying the required, nominal fee.

In Conclusion

We like to think of the Macintosh community as somehow “better” than those who only use PCs. In many respects this has been demonstrated by the paucity of viruses to be found infecting our Macintoshes. For the most part, I think you will also find that Mac users are more inclined to pay their rightful shareware fees. I would like to think this to be true about the larger act of piracy as well - that we do it much less. It would be terrific if we didn’t do it at all!

It is unfortunate when some software developers have to resort to exotic registration schemes and/or hardware “dongles” to protect their intellectual property - and it is still theirs. We are only allowed to borrow it for a specified period of time, and under very specific conditions. Taking these extra measures makes their software more difficult to use, and more expensive to produce for all of us.

Reward those who produce exceptional software at reasonable prices. Pay the shareware fees, register your acquisitions, adhere to the conditions of the licensing agreements, and provide the owner with intelligent feedback so that they may improve their products and make them even more useful for us. Promote the best software among your friends and associates; let them know when you’ve received excellent support. Be just as vocal when you find someone using unauthorized software. It can be done in such a manner as to point out the problem, without embarrassing them. Sometimes, a mere reference to the fact that you received a discount on your last upgrade, because you had registered yours, will stimulate them into doing the same. Always assume that it was an oversight on their part, but never ignore it completely. We all have a major investment in time and money in the best personal computer “system” to be found. Let’s make sure that it stays healthy from top to bottom by doing our part. We may not like the law, but it is the law - for now.

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