The hard sell of software

DOES stolen software in domestic personal computers hit legitimate trade ("Stolen software used on 75 per cent of home screens", 30 July)? I am using a copied package for this letter, but would not have paid pounds 300 for it. Having explored much "blackware" I will be discerning with future proper purchases, but to use them I have spent pounds 500 upgrading hardware, which I would not have otherwise done. The analogy is the invalid argument that public libraries destroy publishers; poor businessmen put themselves out of business.

The transport of packages could be constrained, but users do not want a return to the deliberate incompatibilities once restricting the spread of computers. If 20 per cent of new machines are bought for this purpose then the illicit market is expanding the genuine one. Providers aware of this encourage copying, but not for networking - which is fair. All software goes back to a very few historical thoroughbreds with dispersal through US government generosity. The true picture of original creation is as murky in software as it is in art and literature, which is why it cannot be patented.

Copying is a short-term problem. Any business run on unsupported software is volatile, but there is nothing wrong in learning from it. A better target may be "shareware", free with books and magazines, which leaves chaos in its wake as it redesigns users' system files with neither notice nor permission. This marketing idea, for independent geniuses to distribute imaginative ventures, has been sequestered by publishers to sell subscriptions, who then disclaim all responsibility for subsequent system damage.

Ralph Gee