The arguments against DCI are varied; some raise the harm shouldered by consumers of illegal copies of copyrighted material, namely the risk of a lawsuit and the inherent inferiority of unlicensed work, be it software or movies. On the side of the various industries dependant on creative work, however, two main points, namely Ethics and Research and Development, are brought up on the premise that DCI results in a loss of profit to such industries. This loss of profit has been an issue of much debate, both on the abstract level, such as the above scenario, and even on the empirical level. Hence, if proof supportive of the notion that DCI does not cause industries dependant on creative work to suffer a loss of profits, it can arguably be said to be justified, given that no harm is borne by such industries, and harm, if any, is borne solely by the consumer.Back to top
Would you buy it anyway?
A common point often brought up is that those of engage in DCI would not have bought original copies of the copyrighted products, had they not been available illegally. There are, however, clear exceptions to this argument, more specifically when the product in question is essential and there are no suitable alternatives; an example being Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
Highly popular, this argument is, in fact, the very sentiments of some people who are against DCI. In a post urging people not to practise DCI, Nick Bradbury admitted, “I’m certain that the majority of people who use pirated versions of TopStyle [a software of his] would never have purchased it. Almost anything that costs money will be used by more people if they can get it for free.”Back to top
Why profit may not actually be lost
One area where DCI is most rampant is in the developing world, where people and businesses turn to DCI to obtain copies of copyrighted works, due to the prohibitive cost of purchasing original copies. In this case, even if efforts were made to reduce the supply of unauthorized copies of copyrighted material, it is clear that there would be little impact on demand for original copies of such works, simply because such consumers are unable to afford them in the first place.
Copyrighted work is such that often, one has to use it before judging its true value. This is unlike contemporary physical products, the value of which can often be judged on the spot. Hence, people might be unwilling to shell out money for an untried and untested copyrighted product, given that such money would have in effect been wasted should the product not suit their preferences. This results in a scenario whereby many consumers of illegal copies of copyrighted products actually choose to “test” out such products by first obtaining unauthorized copies at a much cheaper cost, before making a decision on whether to spend money on purchasing the original.Back to top
Paradoxically, DCI can increase profits
DCI is arguably beneficial to companies it supposedly victimizes; one argument in support of DCI is that it helps to promote awareness in and advertise a particular brand and company. Essentially, this results in benefits equivalent to that of advertising, hence increasing the market share of a company.
While denying creators of copyrighted material of some direct profits, DCI in fact allows free advertisement of products, and hence boosting revenue from subsequent products through increased market share. For example, some people argue that one of the reasons Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system is that earlier versions of it were widely distributed by piracy syndicates, thus raising its popularity and increasing revenues of subsequent products.
The view that DCI can in fact boost revenue in the long run is one increasingly held by academics; some in fact argue that with the networking effects brought about by extensive use of software, allowing piracy to manifest in places where it is very widespread may be more favourable than to clamping down on piracy. This is often true for creative products which require a critical mass of users, such as operating systems, which require the support of other proprietary software developers. This holds true even for television programmes, in the sense that fans of television shows who download the programmes before they are screened would encourage others to view the very programme (assuming it is worth watching) – on television. This would in turn lead to greater viewership, translating into better advertising revenue.
The Java Runtime Environment, Sun Microsystem’s most popular software [Self-made image]
This emphasis market share was the focus of many companies in the years preceding the dot-com crash of the 21st century. Many companies at that time focused on aggressively expanding market share than caring about the bottom line; while many technology companies collapsed during the crash, this strategy has worked for some companies, such as Sun Microsystems, which earns much more from sales of its Java programming software simply because the technology is commonly employed amongst web designers in the world.
The proliferation of open-source software has also created a situation whereby software developers have to compete with them to earn revenue. According to a Salon.com article,
“[Whether to respond to piracy is] ultimately a question of strategy,” says Carlos A. Osorio, a Harvard researcher and author of a recent working paper examining the “Catch 22″ facing proprietary software companies in developing markets. “For a closed-source company competing with open-source companies, the optimum strategy is often to use its illegal user base in addition to its legal user base.”
Other possible reasons that loss of profit may not result from DCI.
- In many developing countries, the people and businesses are unable to afford original copyrighted material, thus turning to DCI to obtain these materials. If they were unable to obtain copyrighted material illegally, they would not have purchased the original copy.
- Many consumers of illegal copies of copyrighted products may decide to buy an album, go to the cinema to watch a movie, or buy retail software, depending on the quality of the music, movie or software as seen in the illegal “trial” copy.
- As poor people who practise DCI earn more money, their love for music, or movies, or computer games (which was bred thanks to DCI) would drive some of them to support intellectual property and purchase genuine products.