Your March Open Discussion featured two more contributors to the subject of software piracy. One declared consistent exercise of a verifiable ethical principle to be unacceptable; the other declared ethical principles to be unacceptable, period. Your succinct January appraisal of piracy as theft was characterized as "hypocritical" and "false morality." You artfully refrained from further comment. Move over. It's my turn.
When one addresses an ethical issue, one owes, as a minimal courtesy to the audience, the presence of mind to name the ethical principle being invoked. Any discussion of "ethics" implies, and requires, a clearly defined mutual ethical standard. It cannot be resolved by reference to peer pressure, personal whims, or private opinion polls. My dictionary defines the verb pirate as: "to appropriate and reproduce (a book, invention, etc.) without authorization or legal right." It defines defraud as: "to deprive of a right or property by fraud; cheat." If theft isn't a moral issue, nothing is. No reader would try to program the 6502 microprocessor with "maybe/maybe not" bits and random "don't-be-tooconsistent" bits. It doesn't work that way; neither does the human mind. That is the mental equivalent of dividing by zero; the joker, the wild card.
This letter is really addressed to those who resolved the issue of theft at the age of nine or so, and don't steal, but aren't fully prepared to say why. There aren't "two sides" to software piracy. Sale of software is a trade; i.e., a mutual (voluntary) exchange of values, and as such requires the full understanding and consent of both parties. Any attempt to obtain value from another without this consent requires an "involuntary trade"; i.e., force or fraud is involved. Once one claims a "right" to the theft of another's ideas, one might as well go for his property too, and even his life/ if he tries to prevent this. There are no principles by which one can claim that software piracy is sometimes justifiable, but that theft of one's own personal computer never is. One cult figure in the vanguard of the sixties' movements understood this the best of them all: "We got a right to anything we can take." (Huey P. Newton, circa 1964). He had little truck with the whining you-don 't-have-to-be-too-consistent, intellectual types. He didn't have to justify nothin'; everybody just sort of understood, and that was, as the man says, that. So much for division by zero: those who repudiate the "acceptability" of independent and self-sustaining action are physically dependent upon those who don't. They shouldn't count on their victim's sanction. They need the victim more than he needs them, and, unless he doesn't understand what he hears, he'll know this first. I don't think most readers steal, or need to. I don't think views that theft is okay in a "good" cause, or that discussion of same is hypocritical, are a credible part of this controversy. I think these views are the cause of it.
Penguin Software's new policy of providing copyable, revisable applications software to us will ultimately end either in industrywide return to this practice or in Penguin going belly-up. The outcome depends upon us. Most of us will respect authors' rights, as we do our own. How? Don't be a second hander. Decide for yourself. Act accordingly. Don't pay lip service to a double standard you don't personally respect; speak out, or act against it, when you can. One doesn't arbitrate with takers or providers of "hot" merchandise. Your own self-interest is at stake. Your highest ethical standard is your own life, and your mind is your only means of living it.
What you make of all this is your own business, but your choice is between this standard, or Newton's.
Alexander L. Forbes, Oakland, CA - V2N9