Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

Software Piracy: Why India Should Be Thankful

Software Piracy: Why India Should Be Thankful

May 18, 2011

Piracy is a bad bad thing. Only...not so much.

“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. 


  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    25.05.11 11:36 PM

    This is a very novel take but I think you're overstating the benefits of piracy, just a tad.

    There are at least two generations of Indians who chose to get into IT despite not having access to computers at home or in college flunkie-owned computer joints. So the idea that pirated software exposed more Indians to computers and therefore produced more Indian IT professionals is a stretch. If that were true how come we don't have a boat load of mechanical engineers considering how many Indians have been "exposed" to automobiles? (It is probably true for *some* Indians that their interest in IT was sparked by futzing around with a computer at home or elsewhere at an early age. But that is a corner case and doesn't hold in the aggregate.)

    Apart from the angle of piracy enabling more Indians to become computer users, the flip side of that coin is that it has also fed the Indian practice of buying things on the cheap regardless of the larger impact on the economy of doing so. I have close friends who started businesses trying to sell software products for the Indian software mass market. Their business models were obliterated inside of three months by the rampant piracy of their software! And no, the folks indulging in this vile practice weren't the ones that couldn't have afforded the actual cost of the product. Quite the contrary in fact. But they did it anyway because they were just used to the idea that you didn't have to pay squat for software. The idea that it doesn't really matter what you're agreeing to when you click "I Accept" on the download web page of a piece of s/w is deeply pernicious in the long term.

    Very thought provoking piece nevertheless. Thanks for contributing to The NRI experience.

  • Suhail
    21.05.11 06:11 PM
    Good post. If piracy was so badly affecting software, media production & movie companies, why aren't they out of business? Truth is, they are making money, but not as much as they would like to.
  • Jaai
    20.05.11 04:38 PM
    I really liked this. Art having a price has never appealed to me. Awesome post (in the real sense of the word; I'm awed. How did you ome up with this?)
  • Shrinidhi Hande
    Shrinidhi Hande
    20.05.11 07:41 AM
    I;ve seen shops in Hyd giving ads in newspapers and publishing detailed catalogs with prices.. 1 CD=50 Rs, 2CD=100 Rs .. no matter what the content is
  • joey
    19.05.11 06:13 PM
    altough i shamlessly support all variants of piracy,i must admit software has a lot of good,its useful,educational and most importantly its used for a certain purpose(application or program) but audio and video piracy is pure entertainment,and could be curbed.ITs becoz of this that michael jackson will always have the largest record sales for the next 5 millon years,no one will ever come close thanks to something called "torrents".:)
  • Ajesh Banerjee
    Ajesh Banerjee
    19.05.11 01:21 PM
    Amazing post!!! The way you have depicted the modern IT India with your razor sharp words, I'm moved! All the software professionals of this country must read this post. I couldn't agree more! Writing a post like this is not an easy task unless you have a tremendous knowledge about the software industry and a "software-baba" attitude in an absolute Bohemian way! The first time I read this post, my reaction was pretty simple "Whoa!!!" Once was not enough... so i went to the top and started reading again. And after reading third time... I couldn't resist my urge to comment! Looking forward for more amazing stuffs... keep them spicy!

Leave a comment