Thoughts on Piracy

Kantian argument for piracy

One of the central philosophical concepts according to Immanuel kant is the Categorical Imperative: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

The maxim that "you should always pirate games" would lead to no more development of, or a complete buisness restructure of, games if it became a universal law. One must come up with another maxim to meet the demands of the Categorical Imperative. One such maxim might be "you should pirate games only if you are unable to reasonably afford it, would not have purchased it anyways, or the game has already sold a significant number of copies." If this maxim became univeral law, nobody would be harmed, game develpment would continue as usual, and many individuals would benefit from the game who would otherwise not be able to.

Impact of Piracy on Game Sales

A study that surveyed 30,000 consumers in six EU countries (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Poland, and Sweden) and cost nearly half a million dollars found that unlike other forms of piracy, pirating video games actually increased game sales!

read the report
communist argument for piracy

Communists argue that all ideas and artistic creation should be held in common and be freely accessible to all. ​The sharing of software and ideas benefits society because "human knowledge and the produce of human labour is used to the advantage of all society." Idealy, society would provide other means of compensation for labor other than through sales.

Pirates under the age of 35

Percent of pirates who are women

Total global bandwith taken up by pirated material

Computer users who have pirated at least once

One game developer, Lachhh, shared his thoughts on piracy through an in-game piracy screen

Just Shapes & Beats Piracy Screen

Why piracy is good: How companies, artists, and consumers all benefit from internet piracy
By reverentOne, April 3, 2022

Pirating is against the law in most countries, but legality does not always equate to morality. Why don’t people feel guilty when they drive 5mph over the speed limit? Or bring fireworks across state lines? Or share an account password? Or host a movie night? Or buy raw milk? Or not license their dog? Or go caroling during the holidays? People often have an innate sense for the difference between “doing something that hurts others” and “doing something that is victimless and harmless”.

There are also many secondhand benefits to piracy people usually don't consider. Pirating opens up the product to a larger audience, especially those most price sensitive who would not otherwise purchase the product at full price. The increased market reach creates a positive network effect because as more people get used to it and talk about it, more people will become paying customers.  Speaking to a group of investors on an earnings call, the CEO of Time Warner Jeff Bewkes  said this in 2013 :

Yes, in response to a question about whether the network kinda-sorta regards the extensive theft of HBO's flagship show, Game of Thrones, as a compliment, Bewkes said, "I have to admit it, I think you're right." The much-discussed fantasy series is HBO's most popular, and "if you go to people who are watching it without subs, it's a tremendous word-of-mouth thing," the exec told investors. "We've been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing subs, running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying subs. I think you're right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world," he said. "That's  better than an Emmy.

How did adobe photoshop become ubiquitous with photo editing when there are so many free alternatives? The answer is piracy. In America 60% of photoshop users have a pirated copy and in other countries that number goes up to 85%. Talk to any photographer or artist with a personal subscription to photoshop, and chances are they used to use a pirated copy in high school/college before they could afford it. Photoshop has made billions of dollars is profits all because of piracy.  Studies  show that the benefits of piracy are vast including product diffusion, network externality, innovation, cost reduction, an effective promotional and publicity vehicle, and technology standardization. 

Another famous example is Ed Sheeran. In an  interview  with CBS, the artist attributes his success to piracy. He states that “illegal file sharing was what made me. It was students in England going to university, sharing my songs with each other.” Nowadays in the USA with the advent of services like YouTube and Spotify a free option is widely available, so the demand for pirated music is on the decline. The bulk of musicians profits come from live tours which benefit from the wider audience free/pirated options provide. The bottom line is that music piracy benefits everyone besides the billion dollar record label and distribution corporations. 


My simple rule of thumb, “If there is a non-pirated option available at I price I can afford from a source I wish to support, then I will purchase it. Otherwise, I will unashamedly pirate it.” There is a lot of grey area and clearly not all piracy is equal. For example, photoshop is $250 a year which is a ridiculous price for a regular person who only occasionally uses it. For a professional photographer who uses it hours a day that price is quite reasonable. Even if you can afford it, it would be much better for your regular person to pirate photoshop and use the saved money to support a small indie content creator that they love. This may not be legal, but it is the correct moral decision.