[gclist] Java manchines and when to collect.

Fergus Henderson fjh@cs.mu.oz.au
Fri, 12 Dec 1997 04:35:47 +1100

Apologies in advance: this mail is not about GC.
There were just a couple of statements that I couldn't
let stand unchallenged.

Charles Fiterman <cef@geodesic.com> wrote:
> In Java you can't write a virus.

Sure you can.  See comp.risks.

Java may be an improvement, but it's certainly not foolproof protection
against viruses.

> Now add public key encryption. I can send you a program that will
> run on your machine. You can back it up to your hearts content.
> But you can't ever run it on another machine. Software piracy is
> locked out. This makes the software business more efficient and
> reduces your software costs. There are one copy countries like
> S. Korea and the P.R.C. who would suddenly have to pay for software
> like real people. So these are major improvements in the efficiency
> of our industry.

Excuse me?  I must have missed something.  How would preventing software
piracy make the software industry more efficient?

Efficiency is measured in cost per unit, and for software piracy
the cost is virtually zero (basically only the person's time to make
the copy), so the efficiency is very high indeed.

There may be *moral* arguments against software piracy, but
I certainly won't buy the *efficiency* argument, at least not
without a lot more convincing.

<begin rant>

Newspapers often glibly repeat claims by large software corporations
that "software piracy is costing billion of dollars".
These bogus claims are of course highly inflated.
They are calculated by estimating the number of illegal copies
and multiplying by the price per copy.

	claimed_cost = number_of_illegal_copies * price_per_copy

However, the intellectual property involved is not physically stolen,
it is just copied.  Thus the real cost to software producers is only
their loss of potential income.  It is very likely that most of those
making illegal copies of software could not afford to pay for legal
copies of most of their illegally copied software.  Thus the real
opportunity cost to software producers is much less:

	real_cost = number_of_copies_that_would_have_been_bought
		    * price_per_copy

Furthermore, in calculating the net effect on the community, this
cost must be weighed against the real benefits obtained by the users
of those illegal copies.

	benefit = number_of_illegal_copies * value_per_copy

The net effect

	net_effect = benefit - real_cost

may well be positive.

Now, let's look at the moral issue.

All other things being equal, I agree it would be best to respect
intellectual property.  However, all other things are *not* equal.

Software developers are hardly a disadvantaged group in our society. 
This is particularly the case for large software corporations such
as Microsoft (and it is corporations such as these that complain the
loudest about software piracy).
The citizens of countries such as South Korea and China
are amoung the poorer citizens of the world.
The distribution of wealth on this planet is such that the
richest 400 individuals own more than the poorest 2 or 3 billion.
Furthermore, inequity in incomes and wealth appears to be growing.
One example of this is that (I think I have this correct) developing
countries actually pay much more in interest on loans than they receive
in aid from first-world nations.

Given this massive inequity, I think it is difficult to find strong
moral justification for _anything_ that would result in developing
countries such as South Korea and China paying large western software
companies huge sums of money.

<end rant>

Fergus Henderson <fjh@cs.mu.oz.au>   |  "I have always known that the pursuit
WWW: <http://www.cs.mu.oz.au/~fjh>   |  of excellence is a lethal habit"
PGP: finger fjh@         |     -- the last words of T. S. Garp.