Piracy and Malware – Pfft!

Piracy and Malware – Pfft!

Brendan Scott July 08

A frequent meme in piracy trash talking is that piracy is linked to malware (example). If your child is downloading pirated material (so the argument goes) they will be downloading it from a malware infected site and infecting their own computer resulting in poor performance, data loss and ID theft.  A variant of this argument is that the downloads expose the kids to evil pornographers.  Therefore piracy is bad and the government should pass laws to stop it.

Neither malware nor pornography is present on legitimate sites. If children are avoiding legitimate sites it is because the prices charged for the material are unreasonably high. It is these high prices (combined with marketing and network effects driving demand for these products) which are causing children to visit illicit sites to acquire software. No children are infected by malware when acquiring open source software. There is no pornography on open source websites. All open source software is legitimately available from legitimate sources. If all software was open source, this problem would not exist.

Increasing penalties for infringing copyright will do nothing to change this dynamic. Indeed, it will make it worse. Any expansion of copyright further, or more rigorous enforcement of existing rights, simply insulates copyright holders from competition, permitting them to raise their prices further, thereby pushing more children towards illegitimate sites. Increasing penalties or enforcement in the hope of reducing malware infections would be like pulling the control rods out of a reactor in the hope of shutting it down. It is exactly the wrong thing to do.

We can concede that malware infecting children’s computers is not only a serious problem, but also a problem on which the government ought to take action. However, further subsidising the closed source software industry is not the solution – these subsidies are the problem. If government wishes to protect children from these evils it would use only open data formats for data storage and interchange and strongly promote the widespread adoption of open source software.

13 Responses to “Piracy and Malware – Pfft!”

  1. 2 Albert 18 July 2008 at 3:23 pm

    “We can concede that malware infecting children’s computers is not only a serious problem, but also a problem on which the government ought to take action.”

    I Disagree.
    Government should stay far away from the internet as possible.

  2. 3 Anders Troberg 18 July 2008 at 5:25 pm

    “Government should stay far away from the internet as possible.”

    And, even more important, they should stay the eff away from peoples’ computers. I’d rather have malware on it than having the government snooping on it.

    Also, there is a lot of talk about piracy being linked to malware, yet, I’ve yet to see a scene group release anything with malware in it, but, I have on at least two occasions recieved a virus (which ClamWin caught) through MS Update. Imho, pirated stuff is at least as safe as legitimately bought stuff, and only slightly less safe than open source stuff. That said, the benefits of open source makes it the supreme choice in all situations where it is an alternative.

    I’ll also disagree with the bit about pornography. Assuming that it’s not exploiting someone more than they are willing to be exploited and follows the legal limits, I have no problem with that. It’s just another cultural genre. Some people may not like it or subgenres of it, but on the other hand, some people don’t like action movies or sitcom either.

  3. 4 brendanscott 18 July 2008 at 5:29 pm

    I think the issue is about exposing children to pornography, not pornography per se.

  4. 5 Anders Troberg 18 July 2008 at 6:01 pm

    OK, then I think we are in agreement.

  5. 6 John Navratil 18 July 2008 at 10:40 pm

    This is a silly article. I’m no supporter of closed source, but if I or you or anyone else writes a game or MP3 player and wish to charge for it, why should it be considered a subsidy that there exists a copyright law? How decides what is an “unreasonably high” price?

    If a child decides that the price to the latest Batman movie is too high, should he scamper in through the back door. If a latte’ at Starbucks is too pricey should the patron simply leave without paying?

    If a child is knowledgeable enough to choose between paying at a “legitimage” site and getting the same product price-free at another, he is knowledgeable enough to know that cost and price are not the same thing and that he will be paying for the product in another way.

    The FOSS world is not free, either. We pay in kind.

  6. 7 brendanscott 18 July 2008 at 11:12 pm

    The article is not about whether it is right or wrong to price software in any given way. Rather, it is about whether the premise (piracy is associated with malware) justifies a certain response (more punitive copyright laws).

    In respect of the issue about whether or not the price is too high, it is something for another day. The argument in outline is:
    1. in the absence of copyright, the price for software will be determined by a competitive market;
    2. economists tell us this price will be the marginal cost of production of the item;
    3. for software this is roughly $0 (not incidentally this is the price for open source software)

    linking this to the post –

    4. any time you charge above this price you will create a black market (the strength of which is determined by the extent to which competition is restricted)
    5. creating copyright restricts competition, therefore permitting software sellers to charge above a competitive price
    6. hence the black market
    7. more of the same (restrictions on competition) will produce more of the same (black market).

  7. 8 John Navratil 19 July 2008 at 12:32 am


    This argument appears in many forms. The drug laws create the black market which allows gangs to thrive. The paperwork requirements for aircraft parts creates a market for counterfeit parts. Drug company profits create a black market for fake drugs, Popular brands (Gucci, Louis Vitton, etc.) create a black market for them. You suggest that charging more than $0 for software creates a similar black market. You correctly quote this as the price for open source software, but we all know this isn’t the cost. The cost includes the value of our service in contributing back to the community; essentially the on-going maintenance of the code base.

    Is the response then to eliminate drug prohibition (I say yes, but it doesn’t have anything to do with this article), certification of aircraft parts, the FDA or brand names? I suspect you will agree that there is some value in knowing that the wings won’t fall off the aircraft you are flying, that the Levi’s you just bought are of the quality you have come to expect, and that the antibiotics you are prescribed actually work. The alternative is to require each consumer to trust nothing and to independently test everything. Not a very efficient market mechanism!

    So what is the correct level of copyright, in particular with respect to software, the marginal cost of production is essentially zero?

    BTW, the price of any item is almost never at the marginal cost of production. That is the limit below which further production becomes uneconomic and beyond which the producer will not produce. The ideal for the producer is to be a perfect price discriminator and to charge each customer what that individual customer is willing to pay stopping are the last customer who will pay above the marginal cost of production. In software, the product isn’t the bytes which are produced, it is the service required to arrange those bytes in the correct order to create value on a machine the customer owns.

    The price is what the market will bear. If I write a game which I can give to you but for which you are willing to pay $50, what will the price be? Somewhere between $0 and $50. Where is the black market? It’s in the wings waiting to exploit the service required to arrange those bytes with a production cost of $0. We can put him out of business by giving away our software, but then what’s the value of arranging those bytes in the first place?

    Copyright law is the blunt hammer which seeks to balance the interests of society in supporting individual innovation and being able to build on that innovation. That is why the protections expire. I can agree that current copyright protections are skewed in the wrong direction, but I think your economics needs a little work.

    As to point (1). In the absence of copyright, the price for software will be $0 and there will be none of it. Consider the GPL! It binds the use of the software in the way the developers intend. You cannot simply strip the headers off the Linux kernel and start your own OS company with the source. Anything you add you have to give up. Absent copyright you couldn’t have GPL. I’ve addressed (2 and 3) above.

    (4) A black market is created not when you price something above its worth to the consumer, but when there is a big spread between its market price and the marginal production cost. Thus there is a big black market in software and hand bags, but not in Chevrolet’s. It’s true that copyright creates this diseconomy, but it does so in the greater interests (however flawed the implementation) of society.

    (5) Copyright creates no restriction to competition. Lotus 1-2-3 was the first, but certainly not the last spreadsheet. Microsoft’s copyright on Windows didn’t stop Gnome from being developed.

    (6 & 7) Non sequitor.

    I conclusion, you could eliminate the malware/piracy problem by eliminating copyright, but you wouldn’t like it. So if you don’t want to eliminate copyright, you will have to enforce it.

    Perversely, and in agreement with you, I believe the excesses of copyright and patent abuse along with the DMCA are BEGINNING to have the desired effect of moving the both to a more rational place. At least people are beginning to talk about it.


    — John Navratil

  8. 9 John Navratil 19 July 2008 at 1:01 am

    Oops! I dashed off my conclusion a bit too hastily. I should have said you can solve the piracy problem by eliminating copyright (i.e. it’s not piracy any more), but you cannot solve the malware problem. Piracy is merely the bait. Malware, at least for profit, is the way to steal your computer services. The spam-bot guys will have to write their own games.

  9. 10 alannaonline 19 July 2008 at 1:19 am

    Anything the government can do to prevent children from being exposed to pornography should be welcomed. I do not agree they should say away from the net and peoples computers. If this was the case then there would be no legislation to capture peadophile rings, peadophile websites and people who keep images of children on their computer. If you have something to hide, then you might have something to fear. But, if on the other hand you don’t then the government can’t touch you.

    PS, i really like this site, the debates and blogs are very interesting. Well done. Im new to wordpress.

  10. 11 Anders Troberg 19 July 2008 at 2:35 am

    Alannaonline, don’t mix different subjects. Children getting exposed to pornography is one thing, pedophiles another.

    I don’t think that some exposure to pornography is harmful, as long as it’s kept reasonable and not too extreme. Children, and now I’m talking about a bit older children, say teenagers or slightly below that, have a lot of questions about such issues, and I don’t think it’s a disaster if they should catch a glimpse of a naked human or find out the mechanics of the process which the stork isn’t responsible for. I sure know that by 10-12 years old, everybody I knew had managed to get hold of some porn and watched it, and that was before the internet, and most of us came out good citizens anyway.

    Pedophiles, on the other hand, should be hunted down by the law in every way possible under the current legislation. However, and this is important, while many piracy related sites also carry porn, none that I know of, which includes most of the big ones and several small ones, cater to pedophiles. Most of them, such as for instance The Pirate Bay, even have a policy of immediately and without warning file a report with the police if such material is posted.

  11. 12 little brother 19 July 2008 at 4:22 pm


    What you are saying about the government can’t touch you is wrong. In order for them to determine that you are as innocent as you say you are, they will touch you and your entire family. If for some reason you are suspected of visiting the wrong site or downloading the wrong thing, they will touch you.

    Imagine to in your own mind being woken up at 3:00 am as a team of searchers breaks down your front door, rounds up your family, sends the kids to one place and you and your spouse to another. Then they randsack your house looking for the slightest piece of evidence that they can use to charge you for anything they can think of.

    Sound like a nightmare? It is. Be thankful that you live in a society where your home, your possessions, and your family are protected from such activity on a grand scale. And yet that is what you are asking for.

    The less intrusion on your life the government imposes the better off you will be.

    Don’t get me wrong, the government has its place. Protecting its borders is one of the biggest. But don’t give up your rights and your freedom for a few indiscretions committed by others. Let those people give up theirs for committing them. Let the existing laws track them down using means that don’t infringe on your rights and freedoms.

    People are way too quick to give up their rights and freedom so that t will be easier to prosecute a single criminal event. Once their rights and freedom is gone, what do they have? Nothing.

  12. 13 ikaruga 22 July 2008 at 5:09 am

    Exactly where is the argument in your post? You said “Pirating = malware ==> we should stop pirating” is a flawed argument but where is the support? At least, in my experience, I’ve always found that “pirating = malware” is usually the case. (Whatever spyware or viruses are caught were due to pirated software/sites.)

    The problem is that making everything opensource won’t stop malware. What’s to keep me from embedding “rm -rf /” in an obscure way in a piece of open source software? (In fact, some jokers tried to do that a while back in the Ubuntu help forums…)

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