The reason why I think software piracy - of actual software (programs) as well as of digital media (music and movies, primarily) exists is because many people, like myself, have a hard time paying more money for something than we think it's actually worth. Take shareware for example: while many of these little utilities - such as Thumbnailer and Paint Shop Pro - are extremely useful (especially for webmasters like me) most of them are not, IMNSHO, worth the $20 or $30 which the programmers (or some company which employs them) expects me to pay. Sure, there are often free alternatives, but with a few exceptions, they suck, because for some funny reason, people tend to be more motivated to create when they're expecting to make money ... go figure. Anyway, finding a crack or key generator for your favourite piece of payware is often ridicilously easy, and the risk is minimal - I've never known anyone to be sent to prison for using a hacked version of GetRight, and the developers are prohibited by law from deleting stuff off of our hard drives, no matter how much they've think we've stolen it - that would allow me to sue them for hacking me!
So how would I go about determining how much something is worth - i e, how much I am willing to pay for it? Easy, I download it and do a bit of "try before I buy", with the exception that I won't buy if I don't like the product, but I reserve the right to keep it anyway if I find it useful. If a program is really good but impossible to crack, I might buy it because I have to - if it's so damn good that I can't find a worthy free (or crackable) alternative, it has obviously passed the test - in other words, it's worth my hard-earned cash. Of course, even something which I got for free might be worth the aforementioned cash - I would gladly shell out $20 for, say, Internet Explorer assuming I got free upgrades. Now, before you start downvoting me for promoting stealing from programmers, consider this:
I do not support theft. Software piracy is, in my opinion, not stealing, because nothing is taken - only duplicated. And if I hadn't been able to get it for free, I wouldn't have bought it anyway.
It's become a bit of a trend in the music biz lately to try and estimate their "losses" that were "caused" by the likes of Napster. In these numbers, they figure everyone who downloaded a track would have bought it, had they not been able to. Big mistake. If I download a song, that's because I'm unwilling to pay more than $1 or so for an album which contains one or two good tunes, bundled with lots of filling which isn't worth the CD media it's laser-etched on. Same goes for software; I will gladly pay, if I feel that I'm getting my money's worth. Now, what about the idea that downloading and using (or listening to) stuff I haven't actually paid for (but which isn't free) would be theft? No, I don't think so. Stealing involves taking, which software piracy is not - we're only copying. When I download a tune off AudioGalaxy, the original is unaffected by this. All that happens is that one more copy is created - one which would not exist were it not that I was able to get it for free. Hence, the artist has lost nothing compared to if I hadn't been able to "illegaly" get his song. Now, feel free to tell me that I'm an ugly freak who is also wrong, but know that what I have written above is intended as a description of how many of us would-be and could-be pirates feel.
Software piracy can not be stopped. With the arrival of Napster and easy-to-use file transfer services like FTP, we, the computer-literate youth, have become accustomed to getting cool stuff for free. There are more hackers and more talent directed at defeating copy protections than there are inventing them. Personally, I believe that piracy will help sort out the garbage from the good stuff - those who produce crap will stand poor, for no-one wants to give them any money, while those who actually reward the consumer for choosing their product will come out victorious - and maybe, just maybe, the quality of music, movies and software will generally improve as consumers get more picky about what they want to pay for. And that, fellow everythingians, is a good thing.