Software Piracy – Mikhail Gorbachev, Traian Basescu and Bil Gates

There have been two, oddly related, news items regarding software piracy the past couple of days.

The first, reported today by Bloomberg News reports, says that former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev is appealing to Bill Gates to intervene in the case of Alexander Ponosov, a school principal in Russia charged with copyright infringement for purchasing computers for his students that apparently contained pirated Windows copies.

From the contents of of Gorbachev’s open letter to Gates:

“Show leniency and drop claims against the principal,” Gorbachev and billionaire Alexander Lebedev wrote in a letter posted on Gorbachev’s Web site today. “This teacher, who has dedicated his life to educating children and earns a pitiful wage compared with even the lowest-ranking people at your company, now faces imprisonment in a Siberian penal colony.”

Here’s the letter in Russian, and Google’s rough automated translation.

Another news report on the Washington Post quotes Romanian President Traian Basescu saying:

“Piracy helped the young generation discover computers. It set off the development of the IT industry in Romania,”

“It helped Romanians improve their creative capacity in the IT industry, which has become famous around the world … Ten years ago, it was an investment in Romania’s friendship with Microsoft and with Bill Gates.”

Both these news item relate to the same topic – piracy is helping poor countries improve their IT industries.
One can look at the financial damage caused to the companies who’s software is being stolen but on the other hand, these companies benefit a growing adoption of their platform, strengthening their position as platform leaders.

When I was young I learned Borland Delphi using a pirated version. I was very much involved in the Delphi on-line community and later on was able to get a job and developing in the Delphi environment.
The same happened later on with .NET and Visual Studio…
Borland, maybe too late, recognized the power and benefit such a community of “pirates” has on its platform and issues a free, limited, edition of Delphi. Microsoft has also taken up this path with its Express tools lineup and now the special Vista Stater edition.
People, mostly teenagers, who gets used to using a certain software (like Visual Studio, Photoshop, 3DStudio, etc.) on their own time will contribute to the product’s on-line community (whether by active involvement in publishing sources, answering questions etc. or passive involvement) and will probably pursue a job using it later on in life.

I think that, on the bottom line, the big software companies are gaining more than they are loosing when it comes to pirated software. Maybe its time to change the model software companies use for sales and expose more products free of charge for hobbyists which will in turn make their corporate product and services sales higher…

What do you think?

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