“As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours.” – Bill Gates.
They dot the cityscape, popping up in every lane, bylane, side street and grey market with alarming regularity. Alarming, that is, for the music industry, the movie industry, the video game industry and the software industry. Fun for pretty much everyone else. The local DVDwallah, with his cart recently repurposed from a vegetable vendor, spilling over with more titles than all the DVD stores in a mid-sized shopping mall, each one of them coming with his ‘personal guarantee’ that means diddly squat unless you know him really well. in that case he will drag out a tiny black and white TV and a beat up little DVD player, and proceed to try to prove to you that the disc really, really works.
Now I don’t want to sound like some freedom hating sleazebag out to crush the little studios and struggling artists by praising something as vile as piracy, but let’s face it, it’s here to stay. To stamp out piracy would be a mammoth, Herculean task, and I am pretty sure we have bigger problems. But here’s my dilemma. Even as we responsible citizens denounce piracy and all that jazz, I doubt if India could be the IT powerhouse it is made out to be without it.
I touched my first mouse in a dinky little “Computer Training Institute” run by a guy who had flunked college and decided that when it came to education, he wanted to sit on the other side of the fence. It was a 3-month course where he taught us how to boot up and shut down Windows, how to use the calculator and search functionalities, and the various intricacies of Microsoft Office. For this service he took about 500 bucks/student. The machines were old when Manmohan Singh was young, and looked like they could fall apart at a loud noise. Air molecules tiptoed around them. So no, the copies of Windows and Office he used were NOT, in the strictest sense of the term, legal.
Of the 6 others who began their computer education there along with me, 4 went on to work in the IT industry. All of them used pirated software to hone their skills at home. At a time when IT infrastructure was nonexistent in educational institutions and teachers found it difficult to grasp the idea of anything more modern than the abacus, piracy helped. It helped shape a generation of youngsters who were big on ideas and short on cash; it helped create a workforce that could ensure BPOs and KPOs would never be out of people who knew their way around a computer’ and it helped ignite a love for technology and what it could do among people like me, who may not work in the tech industry, but live, eat and breathe it.
Yes, piracy hurts businesses, big and small. This article, however, is not about the rights and wrongs about piracy. That debate has been raging for years and will rage for decades more. This is about facts. Like the fact that the cost of Windows itself would have deterred most, if not all the future IT whizkids had the cheaper, unauthorized version not been available. Like the fact that had one of my closest friends not gotten his hands on a copy of SQL Server for 300 rupees when the legal version of the package cost more than his father’s monthly salary, he would probably not have started on the path that has led him today to California, working for one of the biggest names in the business. India hopped onto the digital bus early, and piracy had more than a small part to play in that. So if you are Indian, and proud of what India has done in the IT world, piracy IS one of the things you have to thank. Ugly or pretty, it’s the truth.