Wanna stick it to the Man? Use FOSS.

20 Mar 2017 ᛫ 6 min read


“Why pay for software when you can pirate it?”

me (~5 years ago)

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with using proprietary software as long as you acquire it legally. Second of all, there are instances when proprietary software will perform better than FOSS but there are also instances when FOSS will kick proprietary software’s ass, and at times you need to use both of them (ack) together. Still, I think that FOSS can give proprietary software a run for their money any day of the week.

Another thing, there are both pros and cons to proprietary software and FOSS which I might discuss in a later post. Here, I just want to focus on why you should use FOSS rather than pirated software.

I used to think that using pirated copies of software is one of the ways to stick it to the Man. I was probably thinking along the lines of “I’ll use your software but I won’t pay for it to feed your corporate greed.”

At that time, knowing how to hook yourself and others up with illegal unauthorized versions of the latest software was a source of pride. It felt cool and empowering – like you were liberating yourself from the clutches of proprietary software companies.

But just like those old clothes that you think were cool when you were younger, once you get wiser, you begin to learn how mistaken you were.

You see, if you disagree with the idea of closed-source software or feel disdain towards software companies that earn money while hiding their source code, the best way to show your disapproval, the best form of dissent, and the best way to liberate yourself is NOT by using and distributing pirated copies of their software – IT’S BY DISREGARDING THEIR PRODUCTS AND EMBRACING FREE AND OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE (FOSS).

If you want to stick it to the Man; if you want to be a rebel; and if you don’t mind living a bit dangerously, then the FOSS life just might be for you.

Let’s go through two reasons why you are better off using FOSS than pirated software.

Piracy can/will get you in trouble

“Piracy is stealing. Stealing is a against the law. Piracy is a crime.”

that anti-piracy ad

Software piracy in the Philippines is punishable under the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (RA 8293) as amended by RA 9150, RA 9502, and RA 10372 as well as the Optical Media Act of 2003 with penalties of up to 9 years imprisonment and PhP 1.5 Million in fine or both, plus liability for damages. With the passing of Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175), the penalty to be imposed if found guilty of software piracy can increase by one degree as provided for by Sec. 6, Chapter II of the said Act.

Businesses, corporations, and establishments such as schools, internet cafes, and the likes should all be very careful with what they install in their computers and should always think twice when it comes to pirated software. Just because you’re getting away with it now doesn’t mean you’re going to get away with it forever. You’re always just one software/license compliance audit away from a messy legal battle and the risk of losing everything.

Now, you might argue that anti-piracy campaigns are usually geared more towards businesses, establishments, or individuals that use or distribute pirated software for commercial purposes and you might rationalize your use of pirated software by saying that:

  1. You’re only using the pirated software personally and not commercially.
  2. Everyone else is doing it – your classmate, your teacher, your officemate, your boss, etc.
  3. You need it for school/work because it’s what everyone else is using. (see number 2)
  4. The official version is too expensive.

Sadly, these reasons will not allow you to escape liability from the law if you’re caught using pirated software. Even if it’s true that you’re using it purely for personal matters, the mere fact that you possess and/or use pirated software would make you liable under the law. More importantly, just because everyone else is doing something does not make that thing legal.

As to numbers 3 and 4 above, if you think that the software is too expensive, or that proprietary software companies are charging too much, or that it’s unfair for others to require you to use proprietary software for “compatability reasons” just because it’s what they’re using (even though they might not be using a legit copy), then let me tell you something: USING PIRATED SOFTWARE IS NOT THE SOLUTION BECAUSE…

Pirated software propagate the status quo, FOSS is a revolution

Here’s the status quo: proprietary software holds an advantage over FOSS in terms of the number of users and acceptance. This is the reason why job openings require proficiency in “MS Office” applications or why reports are required to be submitted in “.doc or .docx” format as if Word is the only Word Processor in the world and its proprietary document format is the best in the world (NO on both counts). If you think this is a problem and you want to change it, then don’t pirate software. Use FOSS instead.

Our dependency on proprietary (and closed-source) software is deeply ingrained in our society. As kids, most of us get introduced to our first computer running Windows OS (or macOS if you were priveleged enough). At a young age, we are taught to use proprietary software almost exclusively. I remember that the computer literacy program for graduating elementary school students at our city taught us to use Windows XP and Microsoft Office XP but never mentioned anything about FOSS alternatives. I don’t know if there is a primary or elementary school here in the Philippines that teaches its students about FOSS or one that primarily uses FOSS but I hope there is. By the time you get to high school, proprietary software is all that you know. This is also the time you start finding out about pirated software which is expected given the circumstances.

If all you know is proprietary software and then realize how much it costs, your first instinct might be to look for a way to get that software for a lower price or for free. Using pirated software just seems like the natural thing to do and fifteen to twenty years ago, it probably was. Back then, the internet was not as accessible as it is now so you mostly learn about computers from teachers and friends. What you know is what your teachers and friends tell you and that’s what you’ll eventually tell others when they ask you about computers. So unless someone introduced FOSS to you back then, it’s highly improbable that you’ll be familiar with it or look for it. Also, even if you did know about FOSS back then, at that time it had a reputation of being the opposite of user-friendly – that it was only for nerds or “hardcore” computer people – so you might not have been inclided to use it or introduce it to others. But that’s not the case now.

It’s easier to familiarize yourself, look for, and find FOSS now that internet access has become more and more widespread. If you want to find out about FOSS, you can do a quick google search on your laptop or smartphone. More than that, gone are the days that FOSS were a nightmare when it came to User Experience. Just look at the latest version of Ubuntu, LibreOffice, QGIS, etc. to see how much FOSS have grown in terms of aesthetics and ease of use. With all these things, I just don’t see any reason why you would choose to use pirated software over FOSS. In fact, software piracy is one of the reasons for our society’s dependency on proprietary software. By using and sharing pirated software, you’re not sending a message to proprietary software companies and you sure as hell aren’t revolting against them. In fact, you’re helping them expand their reach and market. These software companies don’t care if you’re pirating their software (as long as you’re not making money from it) because, at the end of the day, you’re still using their software. You’re still perpetuating this dependency that our society has on proprietary software.

Software piracy won’t make companies NOT require MS Office knowledge. It won’t make your bosses and teachers NOT require reports in “.doc or .docx” format. It won’t make the government NOT waste millions of Pesos on overpriced computers and software that will be outdated in a few years. Software piracy WON’T do those things for you…but FOSS WILL.

If you want to stop or minimize our dependency on proprietary (and closed-source) software, start with the conscious decision to use FOSS. Try the different varieties of GNU/Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, etc) instead of buying a pirated copy of Windows. Download LibreOffice instead of that cracked Microsoft Office. Use QGIS and/or GRASS instead of asking for ArcGIS from a friend. Donate or contribute to FOSS organizations and companies. You don’t need to be a programmer to appreciate FOSS. You don’t need to be a computer expert to become part of this revolution seeking to liberate our society from its dependecy on proprietary software. You just need to take that first step. If for any reason (financial, ideological, philosophical, etc.) you don’t want to buy proprietary software, don’t give in to the temptation of using pirated software. Be the better person, use FOSS.

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