Warez is "software"- illegally cracked, hacked, altered, accessed and stolen software. But because the software industry is unlike almost any other, where nearly all the capital investment is directed towards R&D-research and development-a warez enthusiast might be inclined to assert:
"Who am I hurting by stealing this stuff? What am I taking away from people? How does copying a bunch of ones and zeros relate to grand theft?"
For the most part, it's true, warez is simply a registered, paid-for version of software that has been copied and given away; like the tapes of the last CD you copied for a couple of pals. That was illegal, too, but nobody got hurt, right? Once a single instance of the finished product is created, such reasoning goes, producing millions of copies is a no-brainer.
Still, the Software Publishers Association (www.spa.org) claims that vendors are losing billions-and possibly trillions-of dollars every year to piracy and theft. Applications such as Quark or Photoshop can cost several hundred dollars to purchase and license legally. Some engineering apps cost thousands. Dishonest profiteers in Asia and Latin America, who simply resell bootleg applications to the masses, are reportedly responsible for about two-thirds of the projected losses; virtually all their selling price is profit.
Warez have been traded for close to two decades, but it was the popularization of the Internet which brought its widespread deliverance. The speed and global connectivity that the net affords not only prompted an explosion in the amount of available warez, but such factors make investigation and prosecution of warez crimes exceedingly difficult. A site can be posted for a few hours, which is long enough for hundreds of warezers to exchange thousands of dollars in apps, and taken down before law enforcement has even heard about it.
Some warez consist of "cracks," executable programs which look in the guts of your unregistered evaluation copy and figure out the necessary codes to falsely register it. One method to prevent such reverse engineering is the use of "dongles," small hardware devices upon which the software is configured to rely; but even these devices can be circumvented.
Simply selling copies of software, however, does not the warezhead make.
The world of warez is international, but no money changes hands in this alternate universe. Warez enthusiasts rely on the barter system: warez for warez. They may not ever use most of the programs they exchange. For instance, a copy of a simulation program only useful to particle physicists might be an outstanding find to a warezhead.
Though price is no object, per se, warezers keep an eye out for the newest, most expensive applications available, regardless of their personal or practical import. Many who dabble in illegal warez do so just to get free stuff. Indeed, the easiest way to gain status in warez culture is to make available an impossibly early beta version-or copy-of an extremely expensive, brand new piece of software.
"Zero day warez," applications released for purchase and cracked the same day, are elite stuff to a warez junky. Though the term "junky" gets used all too often in discussions of online culture, it's actually a good description for the hardcore warez enthusiast.
These freaks can spend upwards of 100 hours a week uploading their latest scores and downloading new stuff. Many have their Internet connections hooked up 24/7 so as not to miss important breakthroughs.
The net, of course, is the perfect medium for the distribution of illegal software. After all, who has jurisdiction when an American software organization sues a warezhead in Germany who maintains a bulletin board based in Norway which distributes illegal software which was cracked and uploaded by a Swiss programmer?
And what of the morality of trading warez? The Software Publishers Association would have us believe that to download a copy of an application is exactly the same as breaking into a house and stealing a VCR. But the warezers reply that when you steal a VCR, the original owner is deprived of its use.
With warez, that's not true. It's just a bunch of binary code, after all. Besides, they say, huge companies like Microsoft deserve to have a little skimmed off. Another justification for trading in warez is that since the traded apps are so infrequently used, it's really not theft. Indeed, some ringleaders admonish their underlings to pay for programs they enjoy and use often. Other warezers say that if software were reasonably priced, warez wouldn't be as necessary. The Software Publishers Association sends out about 10 cease-and-desist letters a week, which are usually enough to shut down most offending bulletin boards and FTP sites. But the law of supply and demand, combined with the nature of the net, and the personalities of many hackers, dictates that the warez will keep a-flowin'.