Smoke and Microsoft

March 9, 2011

Ms Charl Everton, Microsoft’s anti-piracy manager, says that running a pirated copy of Windows is tantamount to gun running, human trafficking and drug dealing. The same was said recently in a series of radio advertisements by British American Tobacco with regards to buying smuggled cigarettes.

Let’s examine these statements with a jaundiced, sceptical eye.

Microsoft is a mega-corporation that has been found guilty in both the European Union and the USA of anti-competitive behaviour, but this doesn’t mean it’s OK to buy counterfeit MS products. It doesn’t mean that those who pirate their products are rapists or genocidal megalomaniacs, either. We won’t go into the argument of whether or not the pirating of a software product is stealing; we’ll just accept for the purposes of argument that it is in some sense wrong, like copyright infringement.

The same can be said of smoking smuggled cigarettes—the smoker is depriving the national fiscus of the tax revenue that would have accrued had the cigarettes been legally imported.

So why do Microsoft and BAT make these absurd statements? What do they have in common?

Well, both Microsoft and BAT have a terrible public image. Microsoft is perceived in many quarters to purvey an inferior product that consumers are forced to buy because of Microsoft’s stranglehold on the PC software market. If you don’t believe me, just try to purchase a laptop computer without some version of MS Windows infesting its hard drive.

The cigarette companies sell a product that is known to be harmful to all who partake of it, and is fatal to a significant proportion of them, yet most of their customers are powerless to cease purchasing the product because one of its constituents, nicotine, is one of the most addictive substances known to man.

So, in order to divert attention from their own moral shortcomings, the companies must paint those who trespass upon their intellectual property as worse than they themselves are. They don’t want people to think, “Gosh, I know pirating software or buying smuggled cigarettes is wrong, but these guys are scumbags; ripping them off is a actually a public service, so I’ll go ahead and do it, anyway.” They want you to equate intellectual property infringements or petty smuggling as somehow akin to child rape—unthinkable.

There are perfectly legal alternatives, though. I stopped smoking, thereby saving my health and a stack of money to boot. I decided I would rather write with a quill and calculate with an abacus rather than buy another Microsoft product; I discovered Linux, which is superior to MS Windows in every respect and that there is a free office suite, OpenOffice, which is just as good as MS office.

Don’t pirate Microsoft’s rubbish and don’t smoke BAT’s rubbish, smuggled or not. But don’t buy the crap they purvey, either, or the crap they say.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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