I’m generally fairly skeptical of the argument you see trotted out every now and then by groups like the RIAA to the effect that the file-sharing phenomenon is having culturally corrosive effects beyond just the entertainment industry by reducing respect for property rights generally. The idea being that, in a world where everyone takes copyright infringement for granted, people will also start taking it for granted that they can help themselves to whatever is in my wallet. If that were true, it seems to me, we would see studies correlating engaging in file-sharing with higher incidence of non-intellectual property crimes (burglaries, car thefts, and so forth).
Yet my skepticism is tested in the face of this short piece on Ars Technica yesterday: For PC games, pirates expect free support. Not only are users downloading infringing copies of software they found online, they are actually demanding customer support from the manufacturer when the software turns out to be buggy. This passage caught my eye:
According to Michael Russell of Ritual Entertainment, customer support requests from users who had pirated the content outnumbered requests from legitimate users by a ratio of five to one. Not only is the result disheartening for a developer, but as Russell points out, it’s also a considerable drain on resources.
The article goes on to explain how companies can tell whether a caller is working from a purchased version of the software, and catalogs the usual array of excuses people make for copying software. It’s that five-to-one ratio, assuming it is accurate, that I found eye-opening. When more than 80% of the people who telephone your customer-support line are people who know they didn’t actually purchase your product, that’s chutzpah!