Thursday, May 03, 2007

Again More Hackers...

I haven't edited the comments to my last post. Nor replied to them. It's a heated issue, and I'd rather get involved by making a clear statement than by making short replies that could get misunderstood.

I had the opportunity to speak to someone who actually knows some crackers, and I learnt a lot about how it works. And to explain what I learnt, we need to start with ethics.

In my last post I talked about how it is unethical to use cracked software. I also referred (perhaps not as clearly as I should have) to the critical distinction between a lost sale and a non-potential sale. Let me restate this: a 14-yr old who wants to learn about making music the way that professionals do it and uses cracked software is not a potential sale. 14-yr olds do not have £3500 to spend on studio equipment to get started. There is an argument that they could learn by using free software - and many do, but the point is that free software is not what the professionals use- if it was, there would be NO music software market.
A lost sale is a producer who is making his money by selling records, or perhaps renting studio time, who gets a cracked piece of software and decides that there's no point in buying it, because he has it now.

No-one in this market suffers from non-potential sales. Ever. In fact, the reverse is completely true. If you work in this industry, you DO know people who started out with cracked software and now have spent thousands and thousands of pounds on their studios. If you don't know anyone like this, then you either know less than two people, or you don't work in the industry. This is a fact. If there was no crack of Photoshop, there would be FEWER legitimate Photoshop users. The fact that businesses HAVE to buy Photoshop for their employees forces this to be the case, but it's equally true in music just because musicians are (with almost no exceptions) GOOD people.

Now, suppose we naively believe that people who can afford to buy software will do so. We believe this, because it's true for us, and we don't really think anyone would be that different to us.

Well then, ON THAT ASSUMPTION, it becomes an ethically justifiable case to crack software and make it available to people who need it but can't afford it, safe in the knowledge that as soon as they CAN afford it, they will, of course, buy it! This, so I am informed, is the ethical foundation for the cracking community. And clearly, this will develop into an ethically driven and ethically justified community of people working together for a common good.

Effectively, cracking is aggressive marketing to people who can't YET form part of your customerbase, done for you, the developer, by a 3rd party.

The crackers feel ethically justified in what they are doing, because their foundations show that they can't harm you. Hey, they've probably paid for the copy that they use themselves.

So there's this lovely symbiotic relationship going on, where the crackers provide new software to people who /can't/ buy it, so that one day they will. Great.

Except that the assumption is, apparently, wrong. Not enormously wrong, but wrong enough to show up some nasty statistics. Y'see, people who /can/ afford to buy the software are also getting their hands on the cracks. That's not what the developers want - because these people ARE potential sales. That's not what the crackers want either - these people are mocking the crackers by using the cracks commercially.

Go find some cracks and read the files that the hackers include with them. The more respected the cracking group, the heavier the emphasis on "try before you buy", and "if you use it, pay for it". This is universally true.

So, it's not the crackers that hurt the developers, it's dishonest users. Of course, there's an easy argument that if the crackers didn't distribute the cracks to /anyone/, then there'd be no problem with dishonest users. There'd also be fewer users, and less publicity for products. Swings and roundabouts - statistics you can never gather, because it's a clear example of the uncertainty principle; if you try to measure it, you'll change it.

I personally believe that this wraps up the story with the crackers. They have an ethical standpoint that is naively defensible. However, they're being exploited in the same way as developers. It was not for nothing that I urged anyone seeking to hack the Sonalksis plugins to customise the UIs to show that they were cracks. I really will release the installer files upon request to any crackers who want them in order to repackage the plugs.

Do legitimate users care if 14-yr-old kids have a copy of the software that they've paid for to play around with? I consider that pretty unlikely. If you've gotten far enough in this industry to be able to afford pro plugins, then you already have a pretty good idea of how all this works. Better than I do, most likely. And EVERYONE can get hold of the 30-day demo anytime - they're just using the "infinite demo", because that's their culture.

But users who could easily afford to buy plugins but don't... what to do? Users who'll happily pay out a few grand on hardware, but not even a few pounds on software...

...will be discussed in a future posting.