Why People Pirate Apps

People who engage in piracy of digital products justify their actions one way or the other, especially here in Third World countries. In this and the next posts, I would like to analyse this practice in depth, hoping to offer some practical tips on how to handle your own digital portfolio under those circumstances

This first post looks at the motives of digital pirates.

The Problem

People who often engage in piracy may do so for different reasons. Some of them are indeed genuine, although this practice negatively affects those who develop those digital products like apps. [1] These may include:

That the app is expensive

By far, this is the most common reason you hear people cite for pirating digital products: as far as they are concerned, they are not doing anything wrong, only that they can't afford to buy the app.

This factor is even more pronounced in groups that are traditionally marginalised such as the blind and visually impaired communities: they have to rely on access technology that is beyond their means.

Take for instance, the popular commercial screen-reading program, JAWS for Windows which as of today 7/30/2017 goes for $1,100 online and even more when you get it from a dealer. That price is more than a monthly salary of many who work in the civil service.

The same applies with the KNFB Reader which costs $100 both in the Google Playstore and the iOS App Store.

As one can see, both of these products are indeed valuable but at the same time, pricey: so this will lead someone to just check them up for free from any source.

That the app is not distributed locally

In some cases, a user may be prepared to get a product, but then it is not available in his or her country. There may not be distributors of the product. This was indeed the case here in Zimbabwe for a long time before 2014: many online stores would be receiving payments via the PayPal platform. Unless you could circumvent this by spoofing your IP address, and using a VPN of some kind, this meant that you could not get a product just because of your location in the world. [2] So a user would just find a way to get the product, whether by fair means or not.

Just to try a product

Some people just pirate a product because they are not sure that once you buy, you will not lose out after payment. This is often true with mobile apps on the App Store.

While in the Android Play, this is true, at least you have a 2-hour window to claim a refund if an app is not up to your expectation.

These people are prepared to buy a product after seeing that it performs up to their expectations or even more than what they expected.

Just because it is there!

Of course, there are some people who get certain things because they are simply there. They do not care as to whether they indeed like it or not: the fact that it is obtainable tempts their picking powers to their utmost limits.

Because they enjoy Solving a challenge

Along with these, there are some who just like the challenge: why is the product difficult to get? What if I get it for free? These indeed are the ones who reverse engineer many apps and programs and distribute to the other groups. Many programs are protected by some code from being run in full and functional form: so the code breakers like the challenge of solving puzzles: how can we make this program run as a licenced product?

The Solution

Regardless of how one may view the above motives, piracy negatively affects both the developer and the user of the product. It compromises the user's device, while at the same time depriving the developer of revenue. This revenue is important in furthering any research, motivating him or her to do further work on that app and so on and so on.

The solution to piracy can be stated in this way:

  • The software developers must understand their market and price their products accordingly.
  • Most major software developers, for example, may target not the end consumer, but institutions, governments or organisations to get the product for their members. Yet not all blind and visually impaired people may be in institutions, organisations or government departments that can get these benefits.
  • Software developers must, if possible, not segment their markets by location and choose to leave out some. Those who are left out may do anything to get the product denied to them.

Since this is a long article, I will continue with the discussion in the next post when I advise those who can to consider buying apps and other digital products on practical grounds.

Thank you for reading this post, see you in the next one!


[1] We are talking of apps here, but this may well cover even desktip programs or even music. This tip uses the term "app" as we are mainly looking at the mobile platforms here.
[2] This is perhaps one of the controversial reason why people pirate certain products: they feel they are unloved by the dealer or by his country: so as a retaliation, they pirate and distribute the product en masse. This is common in countries under U.S. sanctions.
[3] Although many claim to do so, but fail in practice.