Scene: 12-year-old pudgy kid stands next to lanky, punk 20-year-old cousin. Chinatown, New York City. After running away from the giant waiter from a dim sum restaurant who demanded a 75% tip, they find themselves standing before a Rastafarian curled up in a bizarre fetal position, his back against a wall, his merchandise before him. He's selling bootlegged VHS copies of movies that haven't yet left theaters.
"How much for Congo?" the cousin asks.
"10 bucks." Muffled voice through dirty facial hair. Now, this is a quality bootlegger.
"What do you think, Joe?" my cousin asks to me.
I pull him away with a dirty look.
"Look at the guy, Phil. 10 bucks is going to get you a blank tape."
"No way, man," my cousin Phil says. "These guys have really elaborate setups and stuff." I look back at our eager salesman. He coughs for a good 30 seconds, curling up into an even tighter ball.
"Well, it's your money, dude."
Phil goes back over to the Rastafarian and puts his hands on his hips. It's time to play hard ball, now.
"How do I know this isn't going to be a blank tape?" Phil looks at me; he's playing good cop.
"You have to trust me," the Rastafarian says with a grin.
"Oh, come on!" I yell a bit too loudly - a few passersby stop to look at the unlikely trio haggling over an illegal copy of a bad movie. "Even if there's something on there, it's going to shake every time you lean over to mess around with your girlfriend!"
"If that's what you think, don't buy it, white boy."
I turn to walk away, but Phil isn't coming with me. He looks down at the Rastafarian, then back at me.
"Joe, can I borrow 10 bucks?"
When we got home, we were greeted to a blank tape.
And so continued my cousin's long, slightly successful, career in piracy. Phil already had a history of getting into trouble in the 80's for selling copied 5.25" floppies of games he liked. After this incident, no matter how many times I reminded him how right I was about that recording of Congo, he never got discouraged. And when digital reproduction made it on the scene, any worries on his part of cheap "handicam" recordings or bad tape dubs, flittered away, as did the memories of the Rasta who reeked of hash.
My own descent into software theft was far more casual. In fact, it began when Phil sent me a copy of Windows 98. That's where a lot of people start, really. A friend hands over a nondescript, unlabeled disk and whispers, "This is the game you wanted," with a wink. Most people don't even consider the transgression to be theft. The remainder usually doesn't care. The running justification among people like me is, "I wasn't going to buy it, anyway." And then there's the extended demo excuse. Official demos rarely demonstrate much of the game, and sometimes cost money to download in the time frame they're available - good luck downloading anything popular from Fileplanet without a paid subscription. So what's wrong with grabbing the full monty to see if I enjoy what's inside? It's a dangerous habit, especially since every hit is free.