Microsoft on Copyright: An Ethical Analysis
ETHICOMP Journal, Forthcoming
12 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2006
This paper looks at four arguments which Microsoft has used to justify the claim that illegal copying of software is wrong: software piracy is theft; software piracy violates the rights of copyright holders; software piracy is free riding; and software piracy reduces incentives to future innovation.
I argue that the first argument is simply wrong, and the other three do not establish that it is in fact wrong to pirate Microsoft's programs. The article makes the following claims:
1. Software piracy is wrong only when prevents the copyright holder from receiving a fair return to their efforts. It is not true to claim that a copyright holder is wronged whenever someone copies their work without paying the licence fee.
2. We should understand a fair return on the copyright holder's efforts to imply no more than that they should be able to recover their costs and receive a reasonable rate of profit on one's investment.
3. Microsoft has now received more than its costs plus more than a reasonable rate of profit from Microsoft Office and from Microsoft Windows.
4. Therefore it is not wrong to copy this software without paying.
Keywords: Intellectual Property, Copyright, Ethics, Computer Ethics, Microsoft, Free riding
JEL Classification: O3, O31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation