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September 21, 2021

The Age of Digital Piracy: Why You Should Never Use Pirated Software

Posted by Rhiannon

The Golden Age of Piracy came and went more than 300 years ago. Massive ships sailed the seas, captained by the likes of famous pirates like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan (yes, like the rum). They pillaged towns, engaged in sea battles, and amassed great fortunes from stolen treasure. The penalties for their crimes were steep, often resulting in imprisonment and hanging.

Although traditional piracy has fallen by the wayside, a new kind of marauding – digital piracy – has emerged with the rise of the computer age. Digital pirates are known for illegally downloading any and all content online, including movies and TV shows, music, video games, books, and software. Some estimates claim that up to 37 percent of all software on PCs is unlicensed, which costs the software industry billions of dollars every year. This number is hardly shocking, and owes much to the exorbitant cost of licensing software legitimately. However, pirated software poses significant risks to those who use it. Here’s everything you should know:

  • What is digital piracy?
  • Why do people pirate instead of buy?
  • The threat of pirated software
  • Alternatives to software piracy
  • How to safely download software

What is Digital Piracy?

The concept of piracy isn’t a new one. Pirates have operated around the world for millennia. Even Julius Caesar was once captured by pirates way back in the 1st century BCE. However, the practice of piracy has evolved considerably. While some pirates still roam the seas, hoping to raid ships and steal physical goods, the most common form of piracy today is digital. Digital piracy occurs when a criminal makes an illegal copy of a piece of copyright-protected content. The most commonly pirated digital items include movies and TV shows, music, books, video games, and software.

Some digital pirates may keep the pirated content for themselves, while some distribute it to others. There are a few different ways illegal content may be distributed, including through cloud services, auction platforms, and peer-to-peer networks, which allow computers to share files without having to store those files on a central server.

Digital piracy most commonly harms the original owner of the copied content, by preventing them from making a sale on their content. However, some pirates are also cybercriminals in other ways, and may embed the pirated content with malicious software that harms other users.

Why Do People Pirate Instead of Buy?

In most jurisdictions around the world, digital piracy is a crime. If caught, the fines can be steep, and may even result in jail time. Yet knowing this seldom deters people from illegally downloading content. Why is this? There are actually many reasons:

Philosophical Justification

Believe it or not, many digital pirates justify their actions with a whole host of philosophical reasoning. One common argument is that, because pirated content simply copies an original file, it isn’t really theft. The original still remains where it was, unharmed and unchanged. However, although the original file itself may remain unharmed, digital piracy still causes damage to the copyright owner, by costing them possible sales and even reducing their incentive to create new content.

In other cases, some digital pirates believe all online content should be free and accessible to everyone. To them, the act of piracy is a noble one. They’re digital Robin Hoods, taking goods from a controlling group to share with all members of our digital society.


Sometimes, people pirate content because it isn’t available in their region. This is especially common for TV shows and movies that are bound by geo-restricting copyright agreements, which means they’re not available outside of specific countries. However, some music creators, book publishers, and software developers also restrict their creations to specific regions of the world, which means that a person outside of these areas must resort to illegal means to gain access to them.

Everyone Else Does It

Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s also culturally taboo. For example, jaywalking is illegal or restricted in many jurisdictions around the world. However, people still do it simply because it’s an “acceptable” crime to commit. There’s also an element of “if that guy over there is doing it, I can too.” Although digital piracy is considered a crime, it has actually been accepted into society as a normal behaviour that millions of people around the world engage in. This acceptance helps perpetuate how often digital piracy occurs.

For the Money

We can talk about philosophical reasoning for digital piracy until we’re blue in the face. However, it’s no secret that the most common reason people pirate content online is because of money. Digital content is often expensive, especially in a world where the subscription model dominates and people must shell out more cash every month to keep access to certain content and products. Even some businesses pirate software in order to preserve their budgets. Piracy is free and, therefore, an enticing alternative to a wallet constantly being drained by expensive digital goods. 

Some digital pirates do, however, feel guilty for using illegally downloaded content and may try to reduce the damage they cause by only downloading content from multi-million dollar companies or by giving creators a certain period of time to earn money from their content before illegally downloading it.

The Threat of Pirated Software

All pirated content causes harm. However, it’s understandably tempting for many people, especially when they feel they’re only causing damage to giant corporations. Unfortunately, digital piracy can also harm the user. This is especially true with pirated software. Here are the threats you may face if you use pirated software:


If a person is willing to steal software from the company that develops it, what’s to stop them from stealing from you, too? Unfortunately, when you willingly download pirated software, you lose all guarantees that the software is safe. Cybercriminals can easily embed malicious software (malware) in the content they distribute, which will then infect your device as soon as you download it. 

Malware may come in a variety of forms. Some forms, like ransomware and adware, are more obvious than others. For example, ransomware locks your files and demands that you pay a fee – typically in the form of a cryptocurrency – to regain access to them, whereas adware spams you with advertisements at every turn. Other forms, however, are more subtle. For example, spyware can monitor all of your activities and transmit the data it collects back to the cybercriminal. The information may include things like your banking information, passwords, and more, all of which can be used to steal your money, account access, and even your identity.

No Updates

If you use pirated software, you forfeit access to support from the company responsible for developing the software. In most cases, this means that you won’t be able to benefit from new updates put out by the company. While this might not seem like a serious issue, it poses more risks than most people realize. Many software updates address security issues that have developed over the passage of time. For example, a piece of software uses a new security protocol to prevent hackers from slipping into the code and wreaking havoc but, over time, hackers figure out a way to get around this protocol. The software developer then puts out an update which increases security again and keeps hackers out. However, if you use pirated software, you won’t get this security update, which means your software and the device it’s on remains vulnerable to cyber attacks.

In addition, pirated software also won’t benefit from fixes for bugs or from new features added to the software.

Legal Action

At the end of the day, digital piracy is a crime, whether or not you’ve used it to download TV shows, movies, music, books, games, or software. If you’re caught with pirated software, the punishment for the crime can be steep, and may include hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, or jail time. Before you pirate content, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the punishment you could face?

Unusable Software

Some people pirate software to use it for personal use, or entertainment purposes. However, others use pirated software to make money. For example, a graphic designer might pirate Photoshop instead of paying a monthly subscription to the platform. Meanwhile, a multi-person business might pirate expensive software like Microsoft’s Office 365, rather than pay a licensing fee for every user who needs it. Unfortunately, because pirated software can be hacked, stop working out of the blue, and may even be tracked and made inoperative by the software developer, any business relying on pirated software runs the risk of that software suddenly becoming totally unusable. This can result in a complete work stoppage, along with the loss of huge amounts of revenue, while the business scrambles for an alternative, or is forced to unexpectedly pay for the software or even close altogether.

Alternatives to Software Piracy

Digital piracy is illegal and software piracy is dangerous. However, many people understand these risks and still continue to pirate content online because they’re not willing to look for alternative options which may be costly. Fortunately, there are many options to consider before turning to software piracy. They include:

Downloading from the Developer’s Website

If software safety is your main concern, always download your software from the developer’s website. Unfortunately, this option is typically the most costly because the developer will charge full price for access to the content. However, in exchange for payment, you get full access to the user manual, software updates, the customer service team (if there is one), and more. In addition, you get the peace of mind that comes with knowing the software is legal and safe to download and not riddled with malware that can cost you more in the long run.

Looking for an Alternative Software

Mainstream, big name software often comes with a hefty price tag. This is the standard in most industries, where the biggest brand can charge the most. Fortunately, also like in other industries, there are often alternative options to mainstream software. Smaller developers may offer a similar enough product for your needs, but at a much lower price. For example, Canva has been making waves lately for offering a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop. While it’s missing some of the features of Photoshop, it’s a good alternative for many who don’t want to pay the exorbitant subscription fees charged by Adobe.

Getting the Minimum Viable Licenses

Some companies or creators require a specific software that cannot be replaced with alternative options. If this happens to be the case, it may be possible to reduce costs by determining exactly how many licenses you need and paying for the minimum number; many software companies offer bundle prices when you need more than one license, and choosing the smallest possible bundle can help you save money.

Wait for a Sale

If you don’t need the software immediately, sit back and wait to see if it goes on sale. Many developers offer sales on their websites, especially for events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which come around every year. The discounts can be steep, which may allow you to get your software for a price you’re willing to pay.


If a software developer doesn’t offer license bundles and rarely or never puts the software on sale, try contacting them to negotiate. Some developers would rather craft a special price based on your needs than lose your sale to digital piracy.

How to Safely Download Software

Look, we know you may still pirate your software, no matter how much we warn you away from doing so. At the end of the day, however, you should always do whatever you can to make a download safer for you and your devices. There are a few tricks which can help keep you safe:

Download From the Developer’s Website

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The safest possible way to download software is to do it directly from the developer’s website. While this option is the most expensive (depending on the software, of course), it’s worth paying the price for security and peace of mind.

Use a VPN

If you’re dead set on pirating software, consider using a VPN when you initiate the download. Many peer-to-peer networks allow users on the network to gather personal data from others. In addition, your ISP may track your activity and not take too kindly to digital piracy. By using a VPN, you make yourself anonymous and encrypt your online activity. This prevents others from seeing what you’re doing or tracing your activity back to you.

Install Antivirus Software

Antivirus software scans incoming files on your devices and can alert you if the files contain suspicious code. Because many pirated downloads contain malware, antivirus software can help catch and quarantine it before it can infect your device.

Who, as a kid, didn’t imagine themselves as a pirate, marauding on the seven seas? In the digital age, that dream can be realized but it comes at a steep cost, not just for those affected by digital piracy, but also for those committing the crimes. Anyone caught can face steep fines and even jail time. Not to mention, pirated software puts your privacy and security at risk. Although digital piracy is tempting, it’s a temptation that should be avoided.

Posted by Rhiannon

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