Piracy: When Even a Penny Is Too Much

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The MPAA, RIAA and other entertainment industry groups want people to believe that piracy is the result of people's greed and refusal to pay. A recent experiment by Wolfire Games sheds another light on this argument, as they found out that even a penny can be too much.

pay what you wantOver the past days the people at Wolfire Games had quite a bit of success with their “Humble Indie Bundle“. The developers have allowed people to set their own price for a bundle of five games, a model that has been tried previously by bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead.

“Pay what you want. If you bought these five games separately, it would cost around $80 but we’re letting you set the price! All of the games work great on Mac, Windows, and Linux. We didn’t want to leave anyone out,” the Wolfire team announced a week ago.

Not only can downloaders choose the amount they want to pay, they can also decide whether they want the money to go to the developers, charity or any combination of both. The minimum amount required to get a download link is a penny.

Thus far the project has been a great success. The games have been downloaded more than 80,000 times and have raised $683,090 at the time of writing. Linux users have been the most generous with an average donation of $14.01, while Windows users are stuck at $7.31.

Over the past days Wolfire has covered the results of the “Humble Indie Bundle” project in detail. Overall they have been very satisfied with the results, but they also found that there is still a high percentage of people who didn’t even want to pay a penny, and pirated the bundle instead.

Jeffrey Rosen, the co-founder of Wolfire Games, alerted us to this issue and reported his findings in a recent blog post. According to their analysis of the incoming donations and the amount of data that was transferred, some 25% of downloaders did not pay for the bundle.

If Wolfire Games were the RIAA, they would have quickly characterized this group as evil freeriders without any sense of ethics, but Rosen and his colleagues are more realistic in their analysis. Obviously money can’t be an incentive to pirate here, since the games can be legally owned for just a penny.

So what motivates people to download the bundle without paying then? What are the barriers that prevent people from coughing up a single penny?

Rosen mentions that the download links have been posted all over the Internet and that some people would rather click on those directly, than go through the entire payout process just to send over a penny. We could call this the laziness or convenience argument to pirate.

Another explanation is that the payment processors that are used are not available in every country, so some people couldn’t pay even if they wanted to. In a similar vein, but not mentioned by the Wolfire team, is that many people in the target audience are young and don’t have access to a credit card.

These two payment restrictions are related to availability, which is a common reason for people to pirate. Even if they want to buy something legally, they can’t because they don’t have access to a credit card or are in a country where they can’t use the required payment processors.

Other reasons for downloading without paying could be that one downloads the bundle from different computers after having paid, or that the download is shared with friends who made a joint donation. These should not be counted as ‘piracy’ either.

Lastly, there could also be a group of people that think that paying a penny is too much, choosing to grab a free copy instead just to be rebellious pirates. We don’t think that this group is very large, and even if it is significant we’re sure that money is not their incentive.

Rose said that they do not intend to add any restrictions to the download links because that would only make the download process more cumbersome for those who do donate generously. He does have a request for future ‘pirates’ though.

“If you are deadset on pirating the bundle, please consider downloading it from BitTorrent instead of using up our bandwidth! Also, even though you are pirating our games, please tell some of your friends about the Humble Indie Bundle.”


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