Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Piracy

I found a site to pirate Religious Studies ebooks.

I pirate Windows. I doubt many readers batted an eye. A few might have thought it theft. A few more probably thought "Good, stick it to Microsoft."

How about this: I pirate Libronix. All of it. I have, without exaggerating, 95% of all available resources on my HDD as we speak. I also pirate BibleWorks. And QuickVerse, thought I never use it. I`d very much like to pirate Accordance, even if it would have to run in a VM, but unfortunately I've never found a release.

I downloaded a PDF of Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism 20 minutes ago (to be fair, I own the book). I have JSTOR access that I obtained by manipulating online subscription services. Probably 60% of my research is done with texts I shouldn't legally have.

I do so unapologetically. I also pirate games, though if I enjoy the game I pretty well always pay for it. And movies, though I'll always buy them after too, sometimes even if they suck. I don't usually pirate software, because I'm an OSS evangelist.

So why do I have no qualms about using such a vast quantity of resources without comensurating the developers?

I wouldn't have bought it anyway. They didn't actually lose any money, I'm just using it for free. The question is what I'm supposed to be able to use, not what they're supposed to get paid, because they weren't getting paid anything in the first place.

While for the serious student or professional scholar Libronix is a steal, for the working father of two kids in diapers the expense for the collection I have is preposterous to consider. My kids need Christmas presents more than I need cool software for what, ultimately, is a hobby.

As Jim West often laments, peer-reviewed research is prohibitively expensive, so I take very much a "buy what I can and get even more" approach. I can't justify the cost of Hermeneia, you'll have a hell of a time convincing me that that means I shouldn't read it, or that I should turn down an opportunity to acquire it by other means.

So if you're interested, and with the proviso that your actions in no way represent any copyright holder, send me a message, I'll send you a link to a blog with a snazzy collection of rapidshare links to fantastic books. If you've any kind of skill in beating protection schemes get me a license for Libronix 4.0

I hear it has Google fast searches.


Loren Rosson III said...

Good for you, Rick. I pirate occasionally, though my logic is opposite from yours on the following point:

Why do I have no qualms about using such a vast quantity of resources without comensurating the developers? I wouldn't have bought it anyway. They didn't actually lose any money, I'm just using it for free.

When I take the trouble to obtain things I shouldn't legally have (films or TV shows usually), it's because it's something I will eventually buy, because I'll want a pristine copy with all the added features and commentaries. But I also want it badly enough that I can't wait for the DVD release date. If it's something I doubt that I'll buy, that means it's usually something I can happily wait for to rent (either free through my public library or through Netflix), and have little interest in bothering to download.

So for instance, I still have bootleg copies of the Lord of the Rings films, Hard Candy (:)), Doctor Who, and a few others. But I also bought the official DVDs for all these, and on top of that I saw each of the LOTR films many times in the theaters. So the studios are getting their money from me.

Your logic makes sense too, though many people disingenuously tell themselves the same thing -- "I wouldn't have bought it anyway, so no one ended up losing any money". If you really wouldn't have bought it anyway -- and if you're not lining anyone else's pockets, as you say, just obtaining it free -- then it's true no one is being harmed. But again, in my case, if it's something I'd never buy, it's something I usually wouldn't care to download.

Pirate on! But watch out for Stephen Carlson. Our resident patent attorney may point an admonishing finger at us. (What say you, Stephen?)

Stephen C. Carlson said...

My normal advice is to never admit to a crime unless you're getting a plea deal.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

That being said, there are huge (and in some sense) institutional advantages that go to professional scholars in the humanities. I am thinking of the benefit that having a well-stocked academic library can provide. When I was an independent scholar, getting adequate access to the necessary resources was frustratingly time-consuming and expensive. That's why I fully support open-source scholarship and other such initiatives as much as possible.

Danny Zacharias said...

What a post :-)

The Dilettante Software Pirate said...

I tend to feel the same - if I didn't download the book, I would borrow it from the library. If I didn't download the software, I would just do without it.

For those interested in lanugages (not only Biblical languages), click on my (fake) name for a great site.

Now then, how do we go about finding out about this site you recommended?

Rick Sumner said...


For the most part I either pirate what I intend to buy, or pirate to see if it's worth buying. If I enjoy the product I pay for it, even if I'm not likely to watch/use it again. Doubly so with movies, and triply so with with independent movies.

But here there's no possibility that I'd have acquired it without piracy. Libronix was out for years before I found a license, if I was going to buy it, I would have. And while we might make the case that the Photoshop pirate should use GIMP, I'm not aware of a Libronix alternative.

Heh. In my youthful indiscretions my attorney once advised me that the only question to ask during an interview was why there was no chair for my lawyer.

I support any Open Source inspired endeavour as much as I can. My son's named Linux, after all. :D

And institutional advantage is entirely too true. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd still scam my way on to JSTOR.


Thanks. I think what makes the post work is that, because most of my readership is as passionate about the subject as I am, the gut reaction goes both ways. You don't want to see academics or publishers get ripped off for their hard work--Libronix is a great product, and if I could justify the cost I'd buy it, really I would, and it would be worth every penny.

But on the flip side, you don't want to see someone get left out of a subject they love because of something so trivial as economics.

It's really not that I begrudge anyone their money, and I really can't condemn copyright law for the most part--at least in general and on principle (software patents are administered by idiots, but that's neither here nor there).

If 7Zip wants to give their algorithm away then that's fantastic to see, but I can't criticize WinRAR because they don't. I see the need for the protection, and realize the laws have to be largely black and white--we can't open the doors too widely to the slippery slope of the whim of the magistrate.

So I realize that what I do not only is illegal, it rather has to be. I'm just not so sure that being illegal makes it wrong--at least in this specific context.

Rick Sumner said...

@Dilettante Software Pirate

Send me an email (address is on the top left of the page).

I don't want to post it here since I am 100% certain the host will get rid of it if they receive a complaint.

Loren Rosson III said...

So I realize that what I do not only is illegal, it rather has to be. I'm just not so sure that being illegal makes it wrong

You're right, of course. What's illegal has nothing (necessarily) to do with what's unethical or immoral, since the latter are subjective. Look at the drinking age in the U.S.! Age of consent laws are also peculiarly high in many of our states. Not wearing a seatbelt while driving can be criminal, as can attempting to commit suicide, but (in my view) those are ridiculous.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm a worker bee at one of the software companies whose products you shamelessly bragged about stealing. I don't know if you consider yourself a Chriistian, Rick, or if you just have an intellectual interest in biblical studies, so some of these comments may not apply directly to you. It makes my heart sink that there are people who call themselves Christians out there stealing my work and the work of my co-workers, and not only justifying their sins to themselves, but actually evangelizing for their sinful behavior, sharing their little justifications and the links to enable others to sin. Come on, Mr. Exegete, do you really think when God said "Thou shalt not steal" He meant "except if you weren't going to pay for it anyway"? Stealing software is NOT the same as borrowing a book from the library. Even if YOU don't pay for the library rental, the publisher and author were still paid for that copy. When you steal software no one, not the publisher, author, or software developer, gets anything to help buy toys for THEIR kids. Piracy is not a victimless crime, and even if you were never going to purchase the tools you use for your 'hobby', encouraging and enabling others to follow your sinful ways makes you a scoundrel of the first order, Rick. And if the question is, as you put it, "What am I supposed to be able to use?", where does this sense of entitlement come from that you're "supposed" to be able to use tools you have no inclination of purchasing, even as you concede their value? At some point you have to wonder, who are you serving? I can only pray that one day you'll actually take the Bibles and commentaries that you steal to heart and repent.

Rick Sumner said...

By "software company" you mean Libronix, just to clarify for anyone who didn't put that together.

I knew I'd get at least one comment like this, so I won't expand too much on the usual financial arguments surrounding piracy, nor on the semantics between piracy and theft, except to suggest that your presentation is a gross oversimplification, as bad as the individual who suggests that piracy is always victimless (which is not a position I endorsed).

What I will note, however, is that I didn't claim a sense of "entitlement," my only point in that regard was that I was accessing material I wasn't supposed to be able to, rather than depriving anyone of any money.

The question is not whether or not I have the "inclination" to buy it, it's whether or not I have the capability. I don't have the money to spend on it. That's just reality, and all the inclination in the world isn't going to change that.

As to how "Christian" it makes me, well, I suppose I might have more issue with it if I shared that theological world-view.

Though, if I did, I might retort by inquiring as to how Christian it is to have information controlled solely by people with money? Where might Christianity stand if Paul's epistles, for example, were circulated only to people with a certain measure of disposable income? It's a reductio ad absurdum of course, but then, so is relating piracy to the ten commandments.

For what it's worth, should the time come that I'm in a position to purchase the software I will. I don't encourage people to pirate things they can afford (though I suppose I do enable that. 'Tis unavoidable--you can't serve one without serving the other), I just don't condemn them for pirating things they can't.

As for repentance, I have to say that it's extraordinarily unlikely. As I noted to Loren above, while I recognize the need for it to be illegal, I don't think that inherently makes it wrong.

I do wonder, however, one thing, and wonder if you would do me the courtesy of answering a question?

I noted in my post that I also scam on to JSTOR. I do it by manipulating online services. The nearest university to me is about 2 hours away, and if I couldn't scam my way on, I'd just have to drive down.

JSTOR gets paid the same either way--the same institutions are paying the same volume license for me to use it whether I do it at home or head down to the University.

So my question:

Is there a victim in that? Because it is a form of piracy. But I don't see how anyone absorbs any financial loss at all. Not only don't they, I don't see how they could, or how that will affect the pay of anyone.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I didn't identify myself or my employer because my response to you was personal. My thoughts on this don't represent my employer in any way. I just find it sad and amazing that someone can dedicate so much energy to studying the Bible and yet be so completely un-affected by the process, whatever your theological world-view is. I get that you've constructed all sorts of logical castles so that you can think you're a good person, sleep soundly at night, and pretend no one is hurt by your actions. You acknowledge the need for anti-piracy law while refusing to believe it applies to you. You recognize that you're not "supposed" to have access to the software, but refuse to believe that illegally gaining access is "wrong". You delight in trying to create moral grey areas in which to hide yourself. I just don't understand why you bother pretending to care about morality and right/wrong when you clearly act as if you are a law unto yourself, not subject to international law or any higher power.

Calling your thievery 'piracy' doesn't make it sexy. You're not Captain Jack Sparrow; you're just a thief. I'd say 'petty thief', but it sounds like you're more into grand larceny. It's a "gross over-complification" to pretend that taking commercial software without permission and without paying for it isn't stealing.

I don't mean to be evasive about your direct question, but I simply don't know anything about the JSTOR licensing terms, policies or pricing structure to be able to express any sort of informed opinion on that question. But since I already think you belong in jail, I'll side with JSTOR if pushed on the issue.

Danny Zacharias said...

Question on the JSTOR thing— are you a paying student, staff, or faculty? If so, then you have the right to access the material, and universities often provide a way for students/staff to access JSTOR using a virtual private network.

If you are not student/staff, then yes you are ripping someone off— not JSTOR but the university. Part of student tuition and the university operating budget is to pay for access to the JSTOR archive.

Rick Sumner said...


I suspect we could have a very long discussion on the financial impacts of piracy, and the difference between piracy and theft, and other fun things. Most of which I won't comment on. But I will comment on the correlation you draw between legality and morality, because I'm not as sure as you are that that correlation exists.

I don't know what you do at Libronix, you could be a coder or just proofing the OCR. But assuming you're a coder, on average, about 1 out of every 20 lines of code you write is owned by someone else. Distributing it is illegal. If not for open source initiatives, that number would be closer to 1 in 10.

It's unfathomable for any programmer to be familiar with every line of code that's patented, every function that someone else owns. There are far more patents than anyone could hope to remember. That type of infringement is both inevitable and, for the most part, harmless. The laws need to be there, but in most cases, they don't reflect any statement on ethics one way or the other.

The dilemma is that you can't decide what is IP too arbitrarily. Microsoft owns a patent on navigating a browser with the tab key. That's silly. WinRAR owns a compression algorithm that's very complicated. That isn't. But how do you tell the difference without being arbitrary?

The USPO has decided to err on the side of caution and administer too many patents rather than too few. And that's probably the best choice so far as ensuring everyone's protection goes.

Software patents are notoriously abused, but while I am one voice among millions in the need for reform, like most of those voices I don't have any real idea how that reform could be implemented. The system isn't good, but it's better than any alternative I can come up with.

Which is the problem. The laws have to exist, but they don't make any real statement on ethics.

Of course, I'm not saying that's the same thing as piracy. That's not the point of the illustration.

Rather it's that the line you draw, where legality and morality are synonymous, is arbitrary, and even misguided. There are scores of laws that exist because they have to, because their existence is necessary for people's protection, but their existence makes no comment on the morality of the actions they cover.

Though if the correlation you suggest exists does, does it work both ways? Because I could conceivably argue that Libronix has given me tacit permission to pirate their software. So, if it isn't illegal, is it therefore ethical. And if not--if it isn't so simple and black and white one way--why is it so simple the other? It begins to smack of a marriage of convenience.

"Because if you want to steal the Bible, we want you to have it." - The Logos 'blog linked above

I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Like I said, I expected at least one response to that effect (even expected it from a Logos employee. . .does that make me a prophet?), so thank you for your opinion. I respect it. I understand it. I just don't agree with it.

Rick Sumner said...


I am not a student or faculty. I do have a card for the university library, and so have paid for the access from the local university.

I have not paid for it from the institution I manipulate.

I suppose one could say I'm stealing the bandwidth for the proxy (I'm not going to elaborate on who pays it, lest someone find the hole and close it), but of course both net neutrality and the vast majority of subscription arrangements say that isn't really true, and the institution is paying the same monthly rate for their service whether I use it or not.

So I have paid for JSTOR access (actually, according to the last breakdown for tuition I saw, I pay more for JSTOR than a student). Just not JSTOR access at home. I can access the university's JSTOR. I just can't access their proxy.

The analogy to piracy is probably closest to installing an OEM copy of Windows on a second machine, or even in a VM on the same machine. I have a license to use it, just not a license to use it here.

The impossibility (or at least extreme implausibility) of me obtaining JSTOR at home is the reason I noted in my comments to Stephen above that even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd still scam my way on.

Rick Sumner said...

@ Danny

I should probably add that the requirements I dodge for my access are not monetary. Even if I qualified for the access, it would be entirely free. I would not fall into the group that absorbs the cost.

The monetary loss is $0.

Anonymous said...

Rick, you are finally right about one thing: you have no idea what I do for a living.

I don't confuse illegality and morality. What you're doing just happens to be both illegal and immoral.

Nothing in your reply indicates that you have any grasp of how software is designed, but putting that aside: You're not just stealing lines of code; you're stealing reference books. And since most of those reference books are not in the public domain, a lot more than 1 of 20 or even 1 out of every 10 books you're stealing belong to someone else.

I get it; I really do. I've read Proverbs: The way of the fool is right in his owns eyes. The fool flaunts his folly. To turn away from evil is the abomination of fools. I shouldn't even be talking to you.

Rick Sumner said...


I knew I should have italicized the point of the illustration.

Anonymous said...

Rick, just for a fun experiment, why not call the president of Logos and ask him if your rationalization is an accurate interpreation?

Call 800-875-6467 and ask for Bob Pritchett.

Then post his response here so we can all see, I would love to hear what he says!

I want to know if your suggestion that you "could conceivably argue that Libronix has given me tacit permission to pirate their software." is a good argument when you are talking to their president.

I don't know? Maybe Bob was saying, please steal from me? Maybe not?

Perhaps Bob was thinking "If you are dead in your trespasses and sins and headed straight to hell as an unregenerate heathen, we care for your soul! If you are wallowing in your sin and have to steal, it is probably good for your eternal security that you stole a Bible rather than a car, because we trust that the living and active Word of God which is the gospel, (the power of God for salvation) will grip you with such conviction of your lost and hopeless state that you will flee to Christ for the salvation of your immortal soul."

"Once you are saved the Holy Spirit will convict you of the sin in your life, and you will turn from your wicked ways and choose to be holy as you were called to be holy just as God is holy. At which point you will cleanse your life from sin, and be like the thief in Proverbs as he had to "pay back seven times what he stole, even if he has to sell everything in his house."

Maybe that's what Bob meant? Maybe he didn't really mean, "please steal from me so I can't buy my kids Christmas presents" like you suggest may be implied tacitly.

Maybe you are right? Maybe you are wrong. Only one way to find out? Do you really want to know, or are you afraid of what you might find out?

Give Bob a call, he loves to talk to customers! Oh wait, you're not a customer, you're a common criminal, oh but I get ahead of myself, perhaps that was uncharitable, judgemental, irresponsible and wreckless, we haven't heard from Bob yet. Maybe you are a stand-up fella? Let's hear what Bob says.

Rick Sumner said...

The question of what Bob intended, and what I "could conceivably argue" are two different things. And whether or not Bob can buy his kids Christmas presents from my piracy is comically misguided. Libronix was out for years before I could pirate it (Bob's post on the topic in fact comes shortly after the first publically leaked key for Logos 3 circulated. I know. I downloaded it. The "universal unlocker" showed up shortly after, reverse engineered from purchases made using the pirated license, and finally a license generator followed suit, though it has some limitations). If I was going to buy it--if I had the means to buy it--I already would have.

Nothing I have done has affected his Christmas one way or the other. I didn't crack it. I don't pass the crack around. The only potential sale he's lost as a result of me (at least to date, I make no promises I'll never link anyone to the unlocker) was. . .to me. Except I couldn't buy in the first place. So the net loss of Libronix is $0.

It's what distinguishes piracy from larceny. Larceny, you take the tangible object, which has a tangible value, and translates to a tangible loss.

Piracy is closer to plagiarism. If the RIAA, for example, would have actually made sales on every pirated MP3 (as they so often like to lament), they would have had astonishingly record breaking years. Every year.

The only company that suffers a lot of piracy, and can legitimately claim to have lost sales on almost every instance is Microsoft, because most people wouldn't know how to set up Linux. So every pirated XP/Vista/7 .iso probably cost them an actual sale.

But back to me, since I don't generally bother to pirate mp3s, excepting Pink Floyd ROIOs, which are, by definition, illicit in the first place.

But I'll tell you what, I'll meet you halfway.

I'll post a comment, on Bob Pritchett's own blog post, on what I pirate and why. He's welcome to respond as he sees fit. You can encourage him to do so, if you like.

Here's my dilemma. I refuse to accept that my collar is too blue to allow me to participate in a field I love.

I refuse to accept that "I can't afford it" translates to "I need to sit out the conversation."

And I refuse to accept that "I'm not a student, and my University library is sub par" translates to "I need to have thousands of dollars of disposable income to engage the field I'm passionate about."

One might reply that, prior to the web, I wouldn't have had a choice. What would I have done then?

I'd have done without. I'd have sat out the conversation. And that would have been a travesty. Me, and others like me, would have been robbed of the opportunity, not because of capacity, not because of passion, but because of economics.

So unless you have a solution that both avoids any sort of IP theft, and avoids me missing out on the field, I'm afraid I remain unapologetic. As we stand right now, the only way to help us both out is if I pirate more books and less software.

Danny Zacharias said...

I belong to the "pirating" generation, so I'm more "understanding" of the whole piracy thing. Rick, you make one statement that continues to eat at me. "If I was going to buy it--if I had the means to buy it--I already would have." This sense of entitlement is a plague of teens and high school students— I want it so deserve to have it no matter what the means.
Anyway, just my thoughts for what they're worth....

Rick Sumner said...

It is not simply that I "want it" so deserve to have it. I want ABBYY FineReader. It would save me god knows how many hours trying to train tesseract. Ultimately it's probably not as good (at least that's my understanding), but I lack the technical knowledge to end up doing much more than typing it myself.

In the other cases I mentioned--movies and games--if I enjoy it I pay for it, and if I don't I delete it. It's just a question of guaranteeing my investment--sort of "Try Before you Buy"--that is fundamentally no different than a demo. What sets this apart is that I keep it and I don't pay for it.

And my reasoning for that is not simply "I want it," it's that I am extremely passionate about the subject, and would have no real hope of obtaining legitimately the resources I would need to engage it seriously.

Ultimately if I could pirate the books instead of the books inside the DLS reader, I'd go with that. One never knows when an update is going to kill it, when the newest resources will stop working. Especially with such niche software. With the forum that sponsored most of it shutdown, it's unlikely that Logos 4 will be pirated any time soon, for example.

It's not the feature set of the software I'm pirating (and ultimately, the software itself is free anyway), it's the information provided there-in. The books. Books I don't have any realistic means of getting any other way.

Do I have the right to engage a subject I'm passionate about? I'd argue that I do. And I'd argue that, while it has to be illegal, I'm not doing anything immoral in ensuring I'm able to do that.

Anonymous said...

So as long as you're PASSIONATE about what you're stealing, it's not immoral, even if it is illegal? So it's bad to casually steal things you don't really care about, but if you REALLY want it, then it's ok? That is some messed up self-deception, hombre.

Rick Sumner said...

I'm not entirely sure if you're frustrated but want to understand my point of view, or if you're just driven to spew vituperative rhetoric while you convince yourself self-righteously that it's for my own good. It looks a lot like the latter, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. If it's the latter, I'll save you some grief: You're wasting your time.

If the "object" in question that I'm taking is "knowledge," then yes. I think passion for it warrants me getting however I need to, if there's no other option. I do not think that is immoral. That is what I'm telling you.

Let's put aside, for the moment, the question of legality (I've never said it shouldn't be illegal).

Let's assume, for the moment, that I'm telling you the truth. I really do support publishers as much as is feasible, and probably more than I should. I really can't justify the cost of Libronix. I really couldn't buy it if I couldn't pirate it. Consequently, you really aren't losing any money.

Assuming, as we are, that all of that is true, we're left two possible outcomes:

1) I am deprived of the opportunity to engage material integral to the study of a field I love.


2) You (or your employer, rather) are deprived of the opportunity to restrict my access to that same information.

First of all, see how the wording is everything? Now you sound less heroic and I sound less villainous. So let's drop the rhetoric. Please. I could phrase everything to make you a horrible evil too. It doesn't contribute anything, unless it makes you feel self-satisfied. . .though if it does it's baseless. It's not accomplishing anything.

More importantly, the monetary loss in both possibilities is $0. So we can drop that from the equation too.

The question is which, of those two possibilities, is the greater evil. I think the former is. And I've explained why. You haven't really given me a reason why the latter is, except for the imagined monetary loss.

So, assuming for the moment at least, that I'm telling you the truth, and there is no monetary loss, why is the latter the greater evil?

If there's a third option, I'm still all ears. But I suspect the reason you haven't named one is that you don't know one.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on this recent news story on software piracy and jail time?

Rick Sumner said...

I think there's a difference between pirating a program for personal use that you couldn't afford in the first place and selling counterfeit goods while purporting to be an authorized retailer. It's apples and oranges. And even that only generously. It's closer to apples and skyscrapers.

Anonymous said...

I still find that "pirating" Bible software to be impossible. I find that charging money to an impoverished person the message of the gospel to be anti-christian. How can giving the gospel be charged for at all? What did Jesus require for the greatest gift in the history of the universe? Belief. If Libronix, Quickvese, and any other bible software were really attempting to get the Word of God out to the masses, wouldn't it be free? I mean really, the ability to get the message out to the whole world in every language available is of the Spirit. But to limit it for financial reasons is unconscionable. These "companies" are not Church, they are capitalist businesses. And they take what was given freely by Jesus Christ and His apostles and attach a monetary value on it so as to create a profit. When it is all said and done, let them have thier money, they have earned it, they bled on the cross to get this message to you so they should be handsomely paid for their suffering. Just because they produce this work does not mean they have faith that the God in those books will faithfully supply their every need.

Nikonograph said...

Hey Rick, I've been looking for a copy of the Hermeneia Commentaries for Libronix. All the torrent sites have it included with 8 gig of other files! Any suggestions?

Alceu Lourenço said...

Rick, here in Brazil those softs are even more expensive! Prohibitive, indeed.
For your question on how missing informations would be avoided before internet, it's simple: people who could buy books just lend them to their friends. No editors wold claim gain loss because no-payers are reading their products. Welllll... internet just made easy to make new friends and lend some books - no mattering where they are in the globe. Including here in Brazil. Huge hug!