Are we doing enough to stop piracy?

Just a couple of days ago, my university hosted an event to curb piracy aiming to educate students on the consequences of piracy. Students witnessed a discussion on Protecting Intellectual Property by four notable people from the enforcement and industry (Apologies for not taking down their names). Students were also allowed to engage in this discussion by asking questions which were later answered by the panel. I live tweeted part of the event on my tweethandle with the hashtag #stoppiracy, and shall leave my opinions on it for the rest of this blog post.

The event started of with the panel reminding students on the consequences of piracy, especially from the industry perspective. Most of it was based on the amount of effort put in by developers to create this software or masterpiece. There was also loads of talk on mutual respect and professionalism. Below are just some quotes from the event.

1. “In the end of the day, one must appreciate the work put into the development of a software”
2. “As a student, the last thing you want is for another student to copy your work and hand it in”
3. “If you want quality, you have to pay for it”
4. “It’s always easier to do the wrong thing that the right thing”

The stuff stated by the panel gave students a huge other perspective to think from, but students too argued their perspective with many great questions and suggestions:

1. “Why don’t the producers produce low-end products that are affordable for us”
2. “We should get original software shops on the streets so people can buy it” (This is a great point, especially since most people are unaware of ways to get copies of legit software)
3. “If we spend millions on advertising to stop piracy, but we can’t spend a fraction of the money on advertising other alternatives” (a personal favourite)

My opinion on this matter

I completely agree with the third suggestion stated above. Are we doing enough to stop piracy? We keep advertising the words “Stop Piracy”, “Lets put an end to piracy, “Membanteras Cetak Rompak” (Curb Piracy, in Malay) et cetera but we do not give alternatives to students and all other computer users. A campaign that does not give solutions is a failed campaign.

One of the panel members spoke many times on finding alternative softwares that are largely available on sites like download.com (he said download.com so many times like he was their sales agent, no offense) or switch over to open source software. To me, he has a very good point and I being an Ubuntu Linux user found myself getting used to a whole bunch of alternative software after switching from Windows. For example, LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, GIMP instead of Adobe Photoshop and CodeBlocks instead of Dev C++.

However, the only problem here is that when students are completing projects or assignments, lecturers are specific on which software to use. For example, if they want a poster done on Adobe Photoshop with you having to hand in a .psd file, they would not accept something done in GIMP or Paint.Net. Therefore, students are forced to find ways to get a copy of Adobe Photoshop, may it be legit or not. Are you still going to blame students for this? The same panel member also stated about using the computer labs in the university if students can’t own a legit copy of the software. While this argument has its plus points, I find it rather impractical for computer labs being a students main computer, especially if it’s a piece of software that is to be used for most parts of their course.

My main argument here is why are universities/colleges supporting commercial softwares as if they were paid to do so? I have not been informed of a university, college or school in Malaysia that doesn’t use Windows or Mac. While Macs have their edge when it comes to design-related work, I fail to see the logic of having Windows PCs for normal, daily student use. Why don’t universities and colleges promote the use of open source software instead? Why just support a bunch of software that keeps getting things in its way despite there being other software that are most efficient, light and unique while being able to complete the same tasks.

Here’s a list of 10 pros of using open source software at a university:

1. It’s a cost-cutting move. Universities can save loads on licensing cost of the Windows OS. There is also no cost when it comes to upgrading to latest versions of the OS.
2. It solves a huge problem computer labs face – virus attacks. Everybody knows how Linux is free from viruses. So free that it would make you a fool to install an antivirus software on Linux.
3. Students as well as Universities can save loads of money on paying for commercial software.
4. This supports various open source developers, web applications and startups and encourages more programmers (including students) to develop their own software without depending on big software corporations. This also encourages startups (something a growing country like Malaysia would need).
5. Students get to learn how to use a whole different operating system, thus giving them an edge when they go out to the working world. They won’t be completely dependant on Windows or Mac but realise different operating systems just do the same thing, but differently.
6. Similar to using different operating systems (Point #5), students will also be open to other alternative softwares. They would know how to not just use commercial softwares available on Windows but also other softwares capable of completing the same tasks. Something that would come to their advantage.
7. Open source operating systems such as Ubuntu Linux are much lighter than the Windows or Mac OS. So do expect computers to perform faster, lag less and live longer. This also calls for less maintanence which also saves money (again, cost cutting).
8. One thing I personally love about Linux is the Linux community. If students encounter any problems they can always Google for help from the Linux community. This community is also a great way to learn new tricks and in the mean time exposes students to a whole truck load of knowledge out there.
9. This would also encourage students to work together in software projects. Maybe students from the same university can come together and create applications for other students, the same way open source works. Software collaboration at its best.
10. It solves the whole piracy issue. The main reason students download pirated copies of software is because they can’t afford it right?

To get straight to the point, universities, colleges and schools should be promoting open source software instead of being the backbone of commercial software. It is the best way to curb software piracy as student would get quality software that is affordable (and most of the times, free). This for me is the best way forward to not only curb piracy but also encourage students to use alternative software and introduce them to the open source community.

SOPA & Do We Need Laws?

I would also like to add on my opinion on SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) that would soon be tabled in the United States and if passed would see the Internet being more of a jail, where even posting a cover song on YouTube would be deemed illegal. This is obviously outrageous, and being on the other end of the globe I am pretty sure that every other Internet user despite their location would be affected by this. Furthermore, Tim Berness-Lee didn’t create the Internet for it to be jail-locked by the government and industry. I am pretty sure the Malaysian government has its own set of rules for Internet usage here (do note, they blocked ten file-sharing sites here). I find it rather dumb for laws to be imposed on this kind of stuff. In this much globalised world and in this democratic country, we do not need laws to control everything we do. The next thing we know, we might have a rule for everything small action in this world. Creating more and more laws against piracy would not have any effects on the long-term, especially if the enforcement ain’t giving any solutions. The best way of course is to educate (educate, not brainwash) netizens to be rational and responsible with their actions. And that is also why I applaud the event that was recently held in my university as it was a great way to get the message across and I hope the message got across.

This is truly my opinion. I would love to hear from the rest of you? Any other suggestions to stop piracy?

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7 responses to “Are we doing enough to stop piracy?”

  1. Ernest says :

    Nice discussion, but next time U have a write-up so long, try breaking it into parts. It is way too long for an average user to actually sit and read through..

    • Megan says :

      That is the issue with the ‘average internet user’ now. Slowly, we’re all going to turn into goldfishes. It’s informative and excellent write ups like these that keep the audience engaged in order to retain and (hopefully) extend their attention span.

      In other news, lovely post Shivaaaa :B

  2. Tim Tams says :

    You’ve made a bunch of great points, and you shouldn’t think most of us who work at a university don’t agree. But there are a few extra things to factor into the equation. I’ll respond to your points to show you how much I agree :)

    TL;DR version: It’s about demand. What do employers want?

    Here’s a list of 10 pros of using open source software at a university:

    1. It’s a cost-cutting move. Universities can save loads on licensing cost of the Windows OS. There is also no cost when it comes to upgrading to latest versions of the OS.

    2. It solves a huge problem computer labs face – virus attacks. Everybody knows how Linux is free from viruses. So free that it would make you a fool to install an antivirus software on Linux.

    3. Students as well as Universities can save loads of money on paying for commercial software.

    All true, depending on the scope of the suggestion. Is the suggestion that Open Source software be used and thought to all students? Or just those more specifically focused on IT? If it’s mainly for the IT faculty, I agree entirely.

    But if the suggestion is to apply to all students across the board, I would disagree. Here’s why;

    While most students i know are are at least moderately interested and proficient in various aspects of IT usage, i also know many who only use it as a tool. This is important because for this group of students, it is critical they use the same tools they will likely find in the workplace where they begin their careers.

    Multimedia students for example; would find it far more useful if they learned software like Combustion, Flame, etc. than Linux, which is seldom used by creatives in a production house. Fashion students wouldn’t benefit a whole lot from using linux either, and would be served better by learning design apps on Windows or the Mac.

    The point is simply that the last thing a university would want is for a student to graduate, go into the workplace and be familiar with software that is different from the company’s. It would be a job disadvantage.

    4. This supports various open source developers, web applications and startups and encourages more programmers (including students) to develop their own software without depending on big software corporations. This also encourages startups (something a growing country like Malaysia would need).

    5. Students get to learn how to use a whole different operating system, thus giving them an edge when they go out to the working world. They won’t be completely dependant on Windows or Mac but realise different operating systems just do the same thing, but differently.

    This is most often the case with IT, but very seldom the case for others. As an employer, when i search for creative talent in my multimedia production line, i search for specialists with industry standard apps like FCP, PS, Maya, Combustion, etc. Many of those are not supported as well on Linux. If you face issues with it, it’ll be harder for you to get profession technical support from those companies. As an employer, this time, effort and money that could be used more productively.

    The main ‘edge’ it provides is through scarcity. If lets say i run a company that uses a lot of Linux for web hosting, etc. then yes, the potential employee who is more proficient with Linux will have less competition for the job.

    A second OS is only a benefit if I as the employer need it. But how many companies use Linux primarily? Not a lot, for a simple reason; support is poor. As an employer, i don’t want to spend time dealing with the intricacies of maintaining the OSes i’ve provided the staff. Microsoft and to a lesser extent Apple are popular because of the support they provide. If i have a technical problem, i can just call them to send someone over.

    Who do i call if I’m having a problem with my Linux machines and my staff can’t do their work in the mean time? There is no central company that is responsible.

    Preference for the mainstream OSes has nothing to do with technical superiority, only support. Especially B2B support.

    6. Similar to using different operating systems (Point #5), students will also be open to other alternative softwares. They would know how to not just use commercial softwares available on Windows but also other softwares capable of completing the same tasks. Something that would come to their advantage.

    This is only an advantage if it matches the employer’s needs, if not, it is a disadvantage when you’re competing with what the employer is more familiar with, and others who are more familiar with what the employer uses.

    7. Open source operating systems such as Ubuntu Linux are much lighter than the Windows or Mac OS. So do expect computers to perform faster, lag less and live longer. This also calls for less maintanence which also saves money (again, cost cutting).

    All true, and what anyone would love, but it is secondary to the primary concern; that as a university we produce graduates that have every advantage against competition when they begin their careers. If a majority of companies and employers one day all switch to linux, you will see universities doing the same.

    8. One thing I personally love about Linux is the Linux community. If students encounter any problems they can always Google for help from the Linux community. This community is also a great way to learn new tricks and in the
    mean time exposes students to a whole truck load of knowledge out there.

    True, but we feel it is more important for students to address employer requirements. If the employer’s requirements includes linux then this is a great advantage.

    9. This would also encourage students to work together in software projects. Maybe students from the same university can come together and create applications for other students, the same way open source works. Software collaboration at its best.

    I entirely agree, but why focus on producing software for the minority rather than the majority? It would be more profitable for the students to produce software for the larger market. Which is what we as universities want. Our success as a university depends on how successful our students are, and that largely hinges on whether we can give our students skills that will be profitable to them.

    This would more likely make their work viable as a career because of the larger market for their products.

    Open Source is a double edged sword for students, it is free, but that culture of free, also makes it harder to make money when they try to sell their products to others in the community. Also, how large is that potential market in comparison to others?

    Would you make more money selling Linux software or selling something on the Mac App Store for example?

    We want our students to make money. The more, the better. Odds are, their parents invested a lot of their savings in their education, we want them to be able to earn sums they would otherwise have been unable to. Support their future families and maybe even repay their parents.

    10. It solves the whole piracy issue. The main reason students download pirated copies of software is because they can’t afford it right?

    It might, but I see our students livelihoods as more important than the companies who produce the software.

    I think companies should really address 2 weaknesses that promote piracy;
    1. Reduce the cost or develop separate pricing for students. Some do, but not all.

    2. Improve their distribution channels. It’s a huge problem when its ten times easier to find a pirated copy than an original.

    • shivanarrthine says :

      hey, thanks for the great opinion. :) I do agree that Linux won’t be a good choice for design, fashion related students (which is why I didn’t rule out Macs in my post). It would be a great advantage for IT students considering there are many IT kids I know of that I have no idea what Linux is. Even for the rest, if they’re just going to do simple stuff like type a document, surf the internet etc, Linux is a great platform.

      Of course, they aren’t apps good enough to match Adobe etc but I gotta admit commercial software will soon start pushing their way through Linux (there has been a huge migration of Windows users to Ubuntu recently). Software should be available for all platforms and users should be given a choice. Not everything in Linux is free, it’s just that most of it is. I think it’s time standard apps move to Linux as well (it’s not like we’re not going to pay for it). You can make money with Linux, you just need to know how to do so smartly.

      Since the main topic here was curbing piracy and most students complained about software being expensive while the enforcement guys were like “Get alternative software” which students can’t since most lecturers are software-specific; I recommended Linux. :) And also since companies don’t seem to be doing enough as well as the government who keeps making us search amongst pirated good for the original.

      Oh, and if you have a problem with Linux all you have to do is Google it. The Linux community is helpful. Canonical is incharge of Ubuntu but most technical support is available on the Internet by other users. :D

  3. Tushar Kumar says :

    Very good post

  4. Latanya says :

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  5. Alexis Drekanpus says :

    Also, a little more time consuming option is to write to the company, complement them on their product and tell them you would like a coupon.

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