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The Morality of Software Piracy:
A Cross-Cultural Analysis
Swinyard, Rinne, and Keng Kau
P. 278 Hester and Ford text
• Paper presents a sociological assessment of
differing cultural attitudes towards the
morality of SW piracy
• Uses a questionnaire distributed to students
at a western U.S. university and one in
Singapore (representing Asian values,
norms, morals, and ethics)
Some Background
• SW Piracy has existed as long as the PC has
existed and maybe longer
• SW Producers have tried just about
everything to protect themselves from
losses due to unauthorized copying
• Some are shown on the next page
Some Techniques
• Make copying difficult • SW requiring key
– using unformatted or
oddly formatted sectors
– laser holes and burns
– special error codes
– SW requiring plug-in
port keys
– user licenseagreements
– etc
The Effects
• PC industry has grown, so has SW piracy
• Estimated that Intellectual Property costs
U.S. more than $40 billion annually
• When was this paper written?(1990)
Effects (2)
• Estimated that one illegal copy made for every SW pgm
sold (1984)
– Has it gone up or down since then?
• It is a problem throughout the world but popular press has
singled out Asia for condemnation
• Lotus believes SW piracy from Taiwan alone costs lost
sales of US $200 million annually
• One raid of a Hong Kong store discovered $130,000 U.S.
worts of pirated SW
• Are people of the Asian nations behaving immorally about
SW copyright law?
• Are they immoral people?
• If we believe that Asians in general pirate SW we may
form a belief structure that leads to broader conclusions
about them
– Are these conclusions warrented?
– By copying SW are Asians behaving immorally?
– What drives their morality on this?
– How do they justify it?
– Is their moral development different than westerners?
– Do they have similar moral development but different
moral behaviors?
Cultural Foundations
• The western world originated protection legislation
– Deals with patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, etc.
– It reflects the traditional value of the West on the preservation and
protection of individual creative efforts
• Program code has received both patent and copyright
– Its most popular protection is under international copyright law
– Read bottom pg. 279 and top of 280
Copyright Laws and the West
• Copyright and patent protection reflect a characteristic
value of the Western World in general and the U.S. in
• In the U.S. individual freedom and benefits are emphasized
over societal benefits
• Many other western nations generally hold that individual
creative developments have individual ownership
• The West’s preoccupation w/ protecting original creative
work led it to originate copyright, patent, and trade-secret
Copyright Laws and the East
• Asian cultures (particularly Chinese which has
influenced many Asian cultures) have traditionally
emphasized that individual developers or creators
are obliged to share their developments w/ society
• A Chinese proverb states: “He that shares is to be
rewarded; he that does not, condemned.”
• Many third-world and Asian nations believe that
copyright is a Western concept created to maintain
a monopoly over the distribution and production
of knowledge and knowledge based products
The East (2)
• Great example regarding Asian calligraphy
• To become a master calligrapher in Japan takes countless
hours of copying the works of a master until the student’s
work is indistinguishable from the original
• Moveable type (a Chinese invention) allowed exact copies
of the master’s original calligraphy
• Their motivation? To permit them to precisely reproduce
classically elegant calligraphy time after time
• Reflects their cultural value of sharing creative work.
East (3)
• Asian books often feature the name of the translator and
the author w/ equal standing on the title page
• Asian paintings often are signed w/ the name of the school
that produced the work rather than the name of the artist
• These values are reflected in the legislative actions of
many Asian nations
– SW was slow to achieve copyright protection in Japan and in the
Philippines and as of ’85 still did not exist in Indonesia, Malaysia,
and Thailand
– Do we have agreement w/ China yet?
East (4)
• Cultural history of Asia does not generally support
the notion of protecting proprietary creative work
• In many Asian nations the highest compliment one
can be paid is to be copied
– Thought: Don’t many westerners also want to be
copied, to have someone say, “When I grow up I want
to be like you?”
– But in the west we don’t want others to copy our work
Moral Decision-Making
• Asians have a different perspetive on moral
decision-making than those of Western nations
• Americans, in particular, tend to be more ruleoriented in their decisions than Asians
• Asians tend to be more circumstance oriented
Moral Decision-Making (2)
• Americans tend to make moral decisions based on
fundamental value rules of right and wrong
• Asians (study used Singaporeans) seem to make moral
decisions less on rules and more on the basis of the
consequences of their moral behavior
• These tendencies of the two cultures indicate that
Americans would be more likely to be obedient to
copyright laws than Asians, who would more carefully
examine the situation , outcomes, or benefits which would
result from a copyright violation.
The Questionnaire for the Survey
• Measures cognition of or knowledge toward
pirating copyrighted software using three summed
statements (add up answers to three questions in
each of three categories).
• Higher scale values correspond with greater
knowledge of copyright law, and attitudes and
behavior more consistend with software copyright
Use a five-point scale
1- Strongly Disagree
2- Disagree
3- Neutral
4 – Agree
5 – Strongly Agree
The questions: Group 1
• Measures attitude toward pirating copyrighted software
sum the three responses
• Making a copy of copyrighted SW and giving it to a friend
is illegal
• When you buy a copyrighted SW program, you usually are
only buying the right to use the SW. The pgm itself
remains the property of the publisher
• It is ilegal top copy “public domain” software (reverse
Group 2
• Measures subjects’ attitudes toward software
copyright laws
• I would feel guilty about even having
unauthorized copies of copyrighted software
• I would not feel badly about making unauthorized
copies of software (reverse scored),
• I would feel badly about giving even my close
friends copies of copyrighted software
Group 3
• Measures subjects’ behavioral intentions toward
these laws:
• I wouldn’t hesitate to make a copy of a
copyrighted SW pgm for my own personal use
(reverse scored)
• I wouldn’t hesitate to accepta copy of copyrighted
SW if someone offered (reverse scored)
• I would never offer a friend a copy of a
copyrighted SW pgm
• Suppose you are working for a private company on a gov’t
consulting project. The timing and the completion of the
project is critical, and you are committed to the project.
• You have just found out that there is a computer software
program which is essential to finish the project correctly
and on time. The software is copyrighted and costs $800.
However, the company has not budgeted for the software
and is not willing to purchase it.
• You have a friend who has purchased this software
program. Your friend has offered to let you copy the
programs and use the copy however you wish.
Four Alternatives
• Mark each choice as acceptable or unacceptable
• A) Do not copy the software and do not use it
• B) Copy the program and destroy the copy after
using it for the assignment.
• C) Copy the program and keep a ocpy for use on
other projects
• D) Copy the program and sell copies to other
people that ask for it
Possible Outcomes
• Suppose that if you get the project finished correctly and
on time the following three alternatives exist for you. The
successful completion of the project could:
• 1) Provide you with a significant promotion and raise – a
much better position and a 50% salary increase, or it could
• 2) Provide you with a modest promotion and raise – a
somewhat better position and a 10% salary increase, or it
• 3) Not affect your job, position, or salary with the
Tradeoff table
• Now consider both the four alternatives A, B, C, and D
available to you with regards to the software, and the three
personal outcomes (1, 2, and 3) and indicate the order of
your preference for each combination, by numbering each
box from 1 to 12
• See table on pg. 290
• Fill out table
• See analysis on pg. 287
• Read Conclusion