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Beelzebub Interview

by Stephen Granade

This interview took place as part of a larger article about warez. Beelzebub is the owner of A Shade Below.

Why warez? Why do you download warez?

       The rationale behind the use of warez as opposed to legitimately purchased software is hardly an enigma. Pushing all the wider issues aside for now, warez is initially downloaded by people all over the word for the same reason; youíre getting something for nothing, which is a rarity in the modern world. We all grow up with the notion that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's even an acronym to support this theory. However, when we are presented with the temptation of free software this assumption is confounded and an immense feeling of power and liberty as a consumer overwhelms us. When given a straight choice between paying £35 for a game and downloading it free of charge only Mother Teresa would consider opening her purse.

       Before the emergence of full ISO warez on the net, the BSAís line regarding the inferior quality of warez may have been justified, but this is no longer the case. With an ISO what you are getting is an identical image of the original software so that the only difference between the shop bought product and the warez version is the packaging, so until the software developers give us a good reason to splash out £35 a time for a cardboard box and a hastily thrown together manual they are going to be fighting a losing battle.

       What the anti-piracy organisations would like you to believe is that you are going to have problems getting a piece of software to run simply because it is a copy. Whereas in reality you find that many of the bugs you are confronted with emanate from the original source, the software developers themselves. I for one refuse to waste money on products, which have been rushed onto the shelves without first having been fully tested. You wouldnít put up with shoddy workmanship in any other industry so I donít see why computer software should be any different.

       It is a basic tenet of any consumer market that products are not built to last; they are assigned with a limited lifespan so that sooner or later they will have to be replaced. The whole consumer economy depends on this precursor and Microsoft for one is guiltier of this than most. Windows for instance is so notorious for crash inducing glitches and bugs that it has become a joke within the computer world. We all laugh about the existence of hidden, random crash functions within the operating system, but this may not be all that far from the truth. If Microsoft is aware of the problems within their software and does nothing to correct them, this is tantamount to the same thing and itís no wonder that Microsoft is in no hurry to rectify these problems. If they ever created the perfect operating system no one would buy their next incarnation and Microsoftís seemingly bottomless coffers would soon dry up. Instead, every six months the same old operating system is released in a new box with a different name slapped across the front and weíre supposed to be grateful for the so-called improvements. Iím quite happy to try out each new release, but thereís no way Iím going to pay for the privilege of being conned.

       To continue beating the Microsoft example to death, I think we would all be quite willing to pay a tenner to upgrade an old operating system, but when we feel we are being exploited people are forced to make a stand and fight back. If you look at the recent disputes in Britain over fuel prices, the thinking behind this is clearly evident. In the same way many people see downloading warez as a global campaign against the oppression of high prices. To take this adage to a higher plane, warez is the voice of the little people in the digital warfare against capitalism and is comparable to the old struggle between the proletarians and bourgeois tyranny. Having said that though I believe most people merely fall into the "I want whatever is free" category, and hence give the wider issues little thought.

       On the other hand there are the warez hoarders who download whatever is available simply because they can. It becomes some sort of bizarre game to try and accumulate a collection of the most expensive software packages obtainable. The total worth of this collection can then be worn like a badge to reflect a personís skill as a warez hunter in the same way as expensive cars are superficially paraded to demonstrate a personís financial prowess. The catalyst, which fuels this downloading frenzy, is often similar to the old "limited offer" patter of salesmen. People grab whatever they can as soon as possible if they believe it is not going to be around forever, even if it's of no use to them in the first place.

       There is also the "planning for the future" theory; while surfing the net you come across an application, which you have no idea how to use, but just in case one day you decide you want to learn how to create 3D graphics for instance, you download the program and put it in a safe place for future reference. I personally have downloaded many programs and games that I have no interest in, but because I think someone I know might like them I grab them anyway. What you have to be wary of is getting caught up in the vicious "download, burn, download, burn" cycle where you continue downloading purely out of habit rather than a love of software or having a valid use for that software. It's ironic that many people, I included, never actually get round to playing the games, which they spend so much time searching for and downloading. I quickly realised how ridiculous this situation was and so have cut down the amount of software I download. Nowadays I spend more time searching for software for other people than using it myself and I am gradually becoming more interested in expanding my knowledge of computers and "taming the beast that is the net" if you like.

       Iím sure that for some people, warez can be just as addictive as smoking or alcohol for example. Too much of a good thing, however, isnít good for you in any form and tends to make you unappreciative of what you already have. When the things you first loved become worthless through excessive gratification you are always expecting something better to be just around the next corner and it is this I believe which drives some people to keep searching and downloading.

What do you feel about the illegality of warez? Does it bother you? Do you have a response to the "it's illegal" argument, or do you just shrug and go on your way?

       The fact that warez is illegal doesnít really worry me. Speeding is also illegal in the eyes of the law and everyone has done that at one time or another, but does that really make us all criminals? Iíd hate to tempt fate, but I donít really think the FBI is going to kick down my door to seize a few dodgy CDs, which are for personal use only.

       Itís a common assumption that pirates and the people who distribute warez on the net are synonymous. They are not, a pirate profits by acquiring software by whatever means and selling it on for their own personal gain, but this, simply put is not the warez way, it goes completely against the sceneís ethic of free software. No one who is involved in the scene trades anymore, nor do they profit from uploading, instead warez is freely distributed to whoever wants it, all you have to do is ask nicely or loiter in the right places.

       I agree, itís still digital theft, but the fact that no money changes hands between the people who upload the software and those who download it makes a considerable difference in the eyes of the law and dramatically determines the course of any punitive action that may ensue. In the pond of criminality, we the leechers, if you like, are small fish compared to the dealers who produce copied CDs by the thousands. Thereís no way that the BSA et al could hope to prosecute every single individual who has ever downloaded a piece of illegal software from the internet. It clearly would not be economically viable, not to mention the fact that it would have little or no impact on the warez scene. Since I have never sold and never will sell warez I doubt that my name is very high up on the anti-piracy mobís hit list so Iím not overly concerned about being caught.

       Although I donít plan to stop downloading warez anytime in the near future I do sympathise with the hard working and creative programmers and designers who have their "opere d'ingegno" or works of the mind stolen thousands of times every second. However, the losses incurred by piracy and the warez scene is greatly over exaggerated in my opinion. The statistics are carefully massaged to inflate the apparent detrimental effects to the software industry. For years the way in which these losses have been calculated is to count the number of times that a piece of software has been illegally downloaded and then to multiply this figure by the recommended retail price of the product. This is absolute nonsense and is intentionally far too simplistic. In reality maybe one in every twenty people who downloaded the same software would have gone out and bought it from a legitimate supplier were it not made freely available on the net. The critical factor, which must be understood, is that they are not all potential customers. If I didnít download warez, my software collection would consist of less than ten games because I consider the majority of them to be unworthy of my hard earned cash. The remainder I try out because theyíre there and theyíre free. If I couldnít acquire these titles from the net I would just learn to live without them rather than buy them from a shop, after all thereís more to life than computer games. Under these circumstances the software developers are in no way losing out, I would even go as far as saying that they may actually be benefiting from the free PR. It is quite likely that someone who enjoys playing the game of a software developer whom was previously unknown to them before acquiring a warez copy may consider buying the future releases of that company.

       Although much revenue is lost to piracy and the warez scene, it has undeniably spawned a whole new industry all of itís own. Would we be seeing such a huge surge in the sales of CD writers, writable CDs, ridiculously large hard drive, 3D video cards and an increase in employment opportunities created by the manufacture of these products if warez did not exist? How else would you justify buying a sixty-gigabyte hard drive or a CD writer for personal use? So one way or another money is being pumped back into the computer industry.

       I am aware that in several countries as much as 99% of software is pirated. Clearly the software developers cannot continue to fund the research of new technologies and be expected to create new and innovative titles if this situation goes on indefinitely. The monetary returns wouldnít justify the expense so a new approach has to taken regarding the distribution of software. Take www.freeloader.com for example. This is a legitimate company who is beginning to make cut down versions of older games freely available on the net. The premise is that while you wait for the bytes to transfer, you view an ad bar, which compensates Freeloader for cost of purchasing the copyrights of the software. This could be the first step towards a new "if you canít beat them, join them" philosophy and I imagine we could soon be seeing many official channels of software distribution following the warez path. Following the rapidly approaching advent of universal high-speed internet access I expect that in the future every new release would be made available in this manner. This would cut down on the costs of logistics, packaging, facing of stock in stores and so on and so forth. Under this new regime, computer software may even fall into the "value for money" category, a wild statement I know, but Iím ever the optimist.

       What concerns me even more, however, is the fact that there is firm evidence that major drug importations, child pornography, and paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland are being funded by the sale of warez CDs. It is believed that in 80% of raids on premises where software piracy is in operation, evidence of other criminal activity has been found. While this is very unsettling I donít appreciate being lumped together with the dregs of society simply because I enjoy downloading and playing computer games. There is a great divide between these two very different groups of people, which those who are not involved in the scene tend to lose sight of. I for one have never been involved in any form of criminal activity, besides downloading warez, taken on the proviso that you consider this a crime in the first place. I help my fair share of grannies across the road, I never forget my mumís birthday and I was even a Cub Scout once so youíre not likely to see my face on the FBIís most wanted list along with the real criminals.

If you had the money, would you just buy the apps and games to avoid the trouble of, for example, finding ISOs and trading for them and downloading them?

        Yes, of course. At present Iím a student like yourself so I havenít got the funds to splash out on a luxury like computer games, however, when I graduate I am hoping to gain full time employment in a well-paid career. Once money is no longer an issue Iíd be happy to pay for software, which I consider being worthy of the expense. Until then I refuse to waste my money on unimaginative clones of prehistoric games, which havenít been fully play tested or gone through any form of rigorous quality control measures.

       What people donít realise though is that there is more to the warez scene than free software. It is a club like any other, full of enthusiasts who share thoughts, ideas and friendships over a virtual medium. The thrill of the chase is just as important as achieving the goal of finding what you are searching for. For some, the whole process is like a tour bus; you are driven around the tourist sights and you enjoy the journey itself, the final destination is just an inevitable progression. Searching for warez gives you the chance to interact and form friendships with people from all over the globe, which otherwise you would not have the opportunity to do. Encompassing the warez scene is a multitude of bulletin boards and chat rooms, which are specifically for this purpose and many people I know visit these virtual meeting places with no intention of using them to find illegal software.

Why do you run your web site? Do you worry about being arrested?

       My site began its life as an epic email, which I wrote to my uncle to explain the finer points of searching for warez. By the time I had finished writing it I wasnít sure if his email server would have space on it to receive the message, I thought thereís no way Iím typing all this out again if anyone else asks for it so I saved it. Several weeks later I decided to turn it into a web site so that other people could benefit from the information. Knowing how frustrating it is to search for warez on the net itís great to be able to help people to speed up the learning process and cut out some of the trial and error methods I was forced to employ when I first started.

       Before putting the site together I was toying with the idea of html editing mainly just to see if I could do it, but also because I feel itís such a rewarding experience to be able to do something creative. I welcomed the challenge of learning a new skill; before I wrote my warez guide I had no idea how to put a web site together or how to upload it so this should be an impressive addition to my CV, providing I refrain from mentioning warez. What I love about the web is the fact that you are free to say whatever you like in a way, which no other medium permits. You no longer have to be rich or famous to express your opinions and be heard. To imagine that your work is being read by thousands of people all over the world is an exhilarating experience that many authors, only to a greater extent, would testify to. With a bit of technical know-how you can put yourself on an equal plateau with multi-national, million dollar organisations, all it takes is a bit of time, effort and dedication.

       Initially I was going to create a "Stand By Me" fan site; a film based on one of my all time favourite novellas by Stephen King. I searched the web to see what was already out there and low and behold it had already been done a hundred times over so I decided to go back to the drawing board to re-think my topic. I wanted to do something completely unique rather than just copying what had gone before. Soon I discovered that, to the annoyance of many net newbies there is no one single place to obtain all the information necessary to find warez. So this impetus was what spurred me on to set matters right and on the tenth day (of November 99 that is) Beelzebub created Bubswg [now A Shade Below].

       In the beginning getting in trouble for making this information public did concern me, but if you think about it rationally I have done nothing more than exercise my right to freedom of speech. I do not upload anything illegal to my site nor do I use it to peddle warez through the post, itís purely information, which could incite people to take part in illegal activities, but that is their decision, no one is forced to read it. However if the BSA, SIIA, SPA, ELSPA or any other anti-piracy organisation you care to mention found a way to prosecute me for encouraging software piracy I would be only too willing to co-operate with them in taking down the site before any legal proceedings took place and I would hope that they would contact me first before making any rash decisions.

       Considering Microsoftís recent anti-piracy backlash even the warez webmasters feel they have little to lose by keeping their sites in operation. The message, which this new selective prosecution stance is conveying is that itís fine to rip off the smaller companies, who cannot afford to threaten the uploaders with legal action, but as soon as you take on the big boys you are going to be in hot water. The result; people stop uploading Microsoft products, but continue to offer everything else for free download. The problem is it takes the backing of a huge multinational corporation like Microsoft to get the job done and this leaves the true victims of warez, the small innovative programmers who charge a reasonable rate for their services out in the cold. What the BSA and co fails to realise is that warez will live on forever in one form or another until something is done to redress the problems of high prices and bug ridden, section rate software.

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