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whitenoise's avatar

How to explain to one's children that software piracy is theft, if it seems acceptable to most other parents?

Asked by whitenoise (14157points) March 18th, 2010

At home, we have a Wii game system for our two boys. As for most of their friends, these are pretty much their favorite toys. The software, however, is extremely expensive and they have to make do with a limited ‘library’.

At school, their friends’ parents face similar issues and it has become more or less common for people to install special hacks to download (illegal) games from the internet.

Our kids, of course, asked us for these hacks as well, but we told them that we think they’re a form of theft. The consequence: we now have two 7 year old boys that tell their friends that their parents are stealing. This was not our intention, of course. However true our view it may be, it seems our children and their friends are too young to handle these nuances.

I don’t want my children to have an unlimited access to whatever they want and especially not if that is created through theft. Their friends are nice kids, though and their parents don’t even understand our problem. It’s a victimless crime, they say.

Any thoughts????

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33 Answers

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The only thing your kids need to learn now is a bit of diplomacy. Their accusations are absolutely correct (you taught them well), but best kept to themselves for now.

Trillian's avatar

You can control what goes on in your own house, but not others. If the kids go to their friends houses would you have them asking “Is this game a legal purchase? If it isn’t, I can’t play.” That’s gonna go over like a bag of rocks.
Your best bet is to teach them right from wrong, diplomacy as suggested by @CyanoticWasp, and discretion.

JeffVader's avatar

I Agree with @CyanoticWasp, you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve correctly told your children that piracy is theft, which it is. I’m not entirely sure if 7yr olds are capable of diplomacy, but its got to be worth a go.

Dog's avatar

I would explain it like this:

“What if you made a beautiful picture and spent a long time because you wanted to win a prize. Then someone goes to the copier and makes a copy of your picture and puts their name on it and they win the prize instead. That is like software piracy. the person who worked hard and made the program is not getting the credit or pay for the job they did.”

partyparty's avatar

Your children obviously know right from wrong. It is a difficult situation for you, I understand this, and perhaps you could explain to the parents exactly why your children said what they did to the other children.

missingbite's avatar

Like @Dog said but go a step further. Have your kids make something and then you “copy” it and “sell” it to your next door neighbor. Have this set up in advance. Then don’t give them any of the “profit” you make. Explain to them this is the same thing. The designers of the games aren’t getting paid for the “copying” of their software.

Your kids will understand more if they see it and not just hear it.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with you, it is theft. They are so young I am not sure how to handle it, you have a lot of good suggestions above.

I kind of look at it like I think people should be compensated for their work. Part of the Golden rule. So, for instance, I buy my music for $.99 a song, because it is a minimal cost to me, and I think the people making the music should be compensated. It is not only a legal issue to me, but also an ethical one. I guess I prefer to word it in the positive of what is right and why I do it, rather than that the other people are doing something wrong and are theives. Not sure if you can turn around that conversation at this point, but I would think you could. If your children feel compelled to explain to other children they would be explaining the reason for their own family’s behavior, not directly accusing other children and parents of something bad.

Arp's avatar

Are you sure they are not playing “Homebrew games”? Those tend to be legal, though I dont know the rules for the Wii, but if they are homebrew, they aren’t doing anything wrong because those games were made to be free.

Cruiser's avatar

I have a related problem with these games and that is the rating system. My kids are only allowed to play age appropriate games and are constantly petitioning me to allow them to play T and M games their friends get to play. It is mind boggling to me that parents allow 10 yr olds to play M games and frustrating to try and explain to a 10 yr old that he is not allowed to do something his peers are allowed to do.

galileogirl's avatar

@Cruiser If their friends parents let them see District 9 or Inglorious Basterds on DVD, would you object? If yes, use the same reasons. M games and R movies are not meant for children their age. (If you do let them watch District 9, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

whitenoise's avatar

Hi…. all great thoughts.

Just; It is not that they don’t understand that it is wrong. They do and they also understand why.

The problem lies more in that I think that they are too young to (have to) understand that sometimes grown ups can do ‘wrong things’ and not be bad persons. They have a hard time understanding that their friends get all the games they themselves only see in the stores (definitely not homebrew).

Their friends tell them that they should get such hacks too and even tell them that our denial is unfair. They feel something is unfair and are frustrated. In all honesty, I am actually (positively) surprised by their diplomatic skills, it is just a lousy deal for them.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise Awww. It is difficult. For children things are very black and white. Lying is bad, stealing is bad, I think it is very difficult for children to understand, I agree. It’s like we have to tell children not to lie, but they should lie if a stranger asks if they are home alone. All you can do is explain yourself and eventually it will make sense to them and they will take pride in your values and their own.

It is really very complicated, with many messages if you think about it. I mean, you have probably also told your children not to just stand by when they see someone doing something harmful, or if they are stealing. So they have told you, but you are not saying their friends should be punished, just that you do not want them to do the same behaviour. Tricky.

Good luck.

missingbite's avatar

I am glad to hear that you are not letting your kids do this. It will sink into them. They are very young but my parents taught me early on that life is not fair. I don’t think it’s ever to early to learn that. Too many people want everything in life to be fair or equal, but it’s not. Good for you and keep it up, they will understand.

Glow's avatar

Well, it depends on their understanding of stealing and theft, which is more than likely “OMG ITS WRONG OOOO!!!!!” Bad no!

Ya know? Instead, just tell them that it is against the law, and so who ever uses hacks is taking a risk. It isn’t something you should strongly condone and you shouldn’t say “it’s just plain wrong!”. It’s wrong in the eyes of the law, but the hackers actually have this sense of robin hood in what they do, and personally, I don’t see anything morally wrong about that. But that is my opinion. I don’t do it myself because personally, I don’t want to take the risk. I like my clean record :P But let your kids develop and opinion of it themselves, and also make sure that they know this is a hush hush kinda thing. It isn’t something you go telling other people on. Now THAT is wrong. If some one is doing it, so what let them.

And by the way, I am not telling this to YOU, rather how I think you should tell your kids. But don’t take this as me giving you parenting advice. Just my two cents that you can take a little or a lot from.

Cruiser's avatar

@galileogirl Absolutely not!! Age appropriate across the board. They know the routine…“you are not going to die if you have to wait until you are 13 to play the teen games and movies” My 13 yr old is still alive and even laughs when he hears me having these discussions now with my 10 yr old lol!

josie's avatar

The parents ARE stealing. Why are so many folks afraid of calling a spade a spade? Out of the mouths of babies…

JeffVader's avatar

@galileogirl District 9 was an amazing movie!

galileogirl's avatar

Oh I answered the rating thing but not the theft thing. Simply tell your kids that people work to make games just like they work to make the one in a store. If we take things without paying we are stealing whether it is a physical or virtual game, somebody is losing their money.

The_Idler's avatar

Your kids will soon be explaining to you how it’s not.

TBH you’re living in a different era.

The_Idler's avatar

Anyway, we don’t want this to become a debate on digital piracy, so I will answer the original question.

I can understand why you wouldn’t want your kids engaging in data piracy, but you can’t really explain how it is theft, because it just isn’t theft. There is no deprivation of anything from anyone at any point, and by the time they are 10 they will realise this.
What you need to do is explain that it is against the LAW, and they will probably get in TROUBLE with the POLICE if they do it. That should scare them enough until theyre old enough to think for themselves.

You really can’t explain it in terms of “theft”, for the same reasons the “YOU WOULDNT STEAL A CAR!” adverts are so ridiculous:
It just aint the same.

There is only one reason for the laws: protecting the profits of big-business. That is pretty much the agenda behind every single facet of our society, but it’s kinda nicer not to tell kids that and let them figure it out when theyre ready.

Exhausted's avatar

Anytime you take a stand for what’s right, there will be some opposition by those that don’t agree. Your kids are learning a valuable lesson. Doing what is right is not always the most popular or the easiest path to take, but the most rewarding in the long run.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Nice sophistry, @The_Idler, but it’s theft, and simple enough that elementary-school age kids can get it. Stealing from big business is still stealing, even if you call it “The Man” and agree with the homies that it’s righteous.

The_Idler's avatar

It’s about equivalent to going into an art gallery, photographing a piece, enlarging it and then hanging it up in your home.

Sooooo evil.

Pazza's avatar

I don’t personally see downloading hookie software as theft. If I use a piece of software that I can’t afford, its because ‘I can’t afford it’, therefore the company who created the software will never see any profit from it either way.

This may sound like a bit of a contradiction, but, I do see how distributing hookie software is unethical and harms the developer (from a purely commercial perspective), so in that respect, there is a conflict in my mind, but only where corporations are concerned, as corporations are truly the only things bound by commercial/admiralty/fleet law. There are no laws within the common law framework that prevent human beings from copying anything, unless you contract and agree not to.

But at the end of the day, when all said and done, its not really theft, as nothing of substance has ever been stolen. No developer ever loses the software he originally created, you could also argue that, since the software has been ‘cracked’, its not the same as the original, and therefore, again, not theft.

All that is really happening is copyright infringement. I have no problem with copying anything, as The_Idler nicely pointed out.

As for Wii games, you can buy second hand software for a fraction of the price at stores like GAMESTATION, I take my kids there and treat them every once in a while to a new second hand game. I bought a playstation 2 Eye-Toy, it cost me 2 quid, BARGAIN!

phillis's avatar

Kudos to you! I don’t often hear of such clear displays of conscientious parenting. I am seriously so proud of you! Your kids will grow up and make the world a better place.

At the age of 5, I explained to my older daughter that someone worked really hard to make those games, and they deserve to be paid for it. If we steal it, it isn’t fair to them at all! She knows that stealing hurts other people.

missingbite's avatar

@The_Idler That is insane. I am guessing you have never created something and tried to make a living with it. I never have but I can see where it is stealing.

By your rational, the game designer should have just made one copy and put it on the internet for all of us to “download” and enjoy. Ridiculous.

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s easy in our family, where half the people make their living from copyrighted software. In one case, I was staying with a family who was going to show a pirated first run movie to the kids, and I said since we don’t approve of pirated movies, my son and I will be going out tonight – and we did.

The_Idler's avatar

@missingbite No, that would be as ridiculous as an artist doing that (oh wait, loads of them do, I guess some people don’t just care about money)

Either way, I was talking about the effect the “theft” has on the original piece of work and on the personal property of the creator. Nil.

whitenoise's avatar


Hmmm… Interesting that you focus on the semantics. I guess you are not a parent (not intended to be condescending!), since you seem to be missing out on the core element of my frustration.

Regardless of how you call it, in my view it is unethical to just copy what you’d like to have if you think it to be too expensive for you. It is hard to explain to your children that (and why) their friends have parents with different ideas.

I can understand the issue: Wii software in The Netherlands costs about US$75,- per game and that is utterly ridiculous. The solution is however not just to hack the Wii; I do not want to send the message to my kids that it is OK to take whatever you want, even if it is not yours.

Another issue I have, is that I feel it to be unhealthy if my kids would not be confronted with scarcity. They shouldn’t just ‘get whatever they want’. Life is about dealing with choices and focussing on what you want and work for that. Also about consequences: you can’t have it all.

But these types of issues, I guess, will always pop up, I guess, for instance regarding with bed time, smoking, drinking, R-rated movies, swearing, fighting, etc.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@The_Idler the thing you seem not to be grasping—and I’m curious about how you can keep a blind eye to this—is that the only reason the game exists at all to be copied is that the developer and publisher do expect to make profit from its sale. It’s not graffiti; it’s not a commissioned painting or sculpture hung in a gallery for public viewing. It’s commercial “art” developed and licensed (not sold) on a per-piece basis.

In fact, the reason it’s so expensive is because of snarky thieves who think “I’m not depriving anyone of anything; I’m just taking a simple copy.” With enough people having your attitude, the game or other intellectual property would not exist, because there would be no profit in it.

The_Idler's avatar

I buy software if I think it is worth it. If everyone had my attitude, products would have to be much better and the game publishers would have to actually show some creativity (fuck EA).

“With enough people having your attitude, the game or other intellectual property would not exist, because there would be no profit in it.”
Really? Why the massive reductions in price of physical music and video over the past few years? Because they were terribly overpriced, so people just downloaded them instead. THERE IS TOO MUCH PROFIT IN IT ALREADY. So piracy has resulted in a massive reduction in price of music. Because piracy exposed the obscene profit margins in media distribution, and broke them.
And bankrupted all the musicians and record labels, so now music doesn’t exist any more nothing else.

It has also allowed an explosion of creativity in music and art. I could never afford the pro synth and sequencing and graphics programs I use, and I would never have got interested in making music or art, nor would I have the appreciation I have now for particular forms of art.
I am making no profit from this, but I – and a million others – are contributing to the cultural wealth of humanity, and at whose expense? Well Sony and propellerheads and adobe etc certainly haven’t lost out.
Even if they did, cultural wealth trumps monetary wealth.
Or are we all such base animals that we need to live by the carrot-and-stick?

What would happen if nobody paid for music? Well, artists would only create for the sake of expression and fulfilment. Hmm that sounds really shit like what music should be.
If piracy kills commercialism in music, it’ll be the best thing to happen to it since de-colonisation and the civil rights movement (yeah I love black music, especially the sort made in Jamaican garages in the 60s… Did you know people can “not be millionaires” and also “make music”? This is not a new idea).

Any who support the anti-piracy laws seem to think that everyone in the world is solely motivated by profit, but they are blinkered by their ‘own’ system of exploitation. We don’t need profiteering to produce good software. We don’t need commercialism to produce good music. In fact, we are better off with neither, in either circumstance.

There are millions of people in the world doing these things for free because they are human and they feel that the creation of tools and art are defining features of civilization and intelligence, and these should be shared amongst every person to improve the state of humanity.

Software used to make money should be paid for, because that is business. Otherwise it is cheating.
But kids can’t afford games, and I can’t afford pro software.
If we don’t pirate it, the corporations get no money, the kids have no fun and the world gets less free music and art (read: less culture).
If we do pirate it, the corporations get no money, but the kids do have fun, and the cultural wealth of humanity does grow.
This is not a zero-sum game.
One situation benefits millions of people who cannot afford software, including children and artists.
The other situation benefits NO PEOPLE.

Piracy for profit is gross and clearly the same kind of ‘wrong’ profiteering as demonstrated by the corporations, but the internet in general, with piracy playing a large part, has broadened my mind immensely and allowed me to express myself in ways otherwise impossible. That makes me a better human, which makes the human race slightly more noble and civilized, and nobody lost a penny.

There are more important things than money you know?
Like maybe some people are motivated by a desire to express themselves, improve the human condition, make people think, or let others have fun.
All of these things should be higher priorities in our minds than making money, because they are what define us as human.
Creativity defines humanity, and humanity defines money, NOT the reverse.


If you suggest that, if they did not stand to become super-rich from creating a useful tool or a beautiful piece of music or an enjoyable game, nobody would do it, that demonstrates a very cynical view of humanity, symptomatic of modern monetarism. If everyone has that attitude, that is how a society becomes, and it ends up ruining the cultural and intellectual wealth of it. It has actually been observed as a self-fulfilling prophecy in the UK.

Also I think it is ridiculous to say kids shouldn’t do this because they need to know that they can’t get things for free, because WHAT? do you think they will assume that, if they can pirate a game, they can pirate a car? Unless they’re autistic, they will probably assume that you can’t download cars for free.

Anyway, like I said, I didn’t want this to get too off-topic so I will say again, I think you should just say to them that it is the LAW and it WILL NOT happen in your house.
Also, why do you let your children associate with the children of filthy thieving pirates?

whitenoise's avatar

@The_Idler Thanks for that answer ^^. You obviously have put a lot of thought into it. I do not agree with you, but I gave you a GA anyway, since I find your reasoning interesting.

You still forgo the dilemma. Live isn’t that simple as you portray it above. The parents of my kids friends are great and nice people. They just feel rather different on this topic than I do. Similar to how I disagree with you, while you may still be a nice person.

Piracy seems to some – like you – no issue. To me it is. I do consider it a form of (intellectual) theft, as does the law.

The reason I referred to above, for which I want my kids to not just get anything they want is, because I am their parent. This whole world is limited in what we can (responsibly) take from it. We should all realize that we can’t shouldn’t just take what we want, merely because we can. We need restraint and learning to deal with restraint resources is what I feel to be part of proper raising.

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