An open letter to people stealing our software.

A few weeks ago, we got a request for support from a user -- in general, I try to respond quickly and help out. I asked about the system and iOS version, to help track down the problem. The email that came back was a little unusual, and mentioned downloading cracked versions of our app. I mis-understood that the user had gotten only the cracked version; it turns out that he had also tried the legit copy, which is where he found the bug. I went off on him unfairly, and apologized.

To give context, and a bigger picture -- there are sites that have cracked apps. MP3s from gobs of bands. DVDs. All sorts of stuff. The Pirate Bay is probably the best known. They undercut the revenue of artists, software developers, people trying to make a living. It's a big deal to those of us who try to create software, and the expansion of piracy is a huge concern. The misunderstanding about the original user was the catalyst for the rant below.

Again, the user in question is clean. I apologize for the misunderstanding. He was rightfully pissed at me for ranting at him, and I was out of line. We've exchanged a few emails, and are good now -- he gets where I'm coming from, I apologized (and apologized again, and again, because he really didn't deserve any of the rant).

But the fundamental problem remains. There are tons of apps being ripped off every day, and that this could potentially destroy the iOS app market in the same way that the Android market went. There's no realistic way that we can prevent piracy; encryption can be cracked, and the warez will be out there. The only chance for keeping some sort of rational marketplace where developers can make some sort of a living is if people (or at least most people) buy legit copies, even when the free pirated one is just a mouse click away. The music industry has caved in because of piracy; it would be a shame if the app industry went the same way.

Hi -- I tracked down the bug you ran into. I fixed the bug, a new version of the app has been approved, and I'll release the update shortly. If you've bought any version of the app from iTunes, you'll get the update automatically, and free of charge. The bug was related to a change that happened in the Xcode development tools; most of the people who have downloaded the app seem to be on iOS 6 or 7 now. Apple dropped Xcode support for iOS 5, and some of the tools didn't work the way I expected. I'm doing my best to keep the older devices going, and what you ran into was an iOS 5 oddity that I didn't catch.

This is good news for you, for sure. But, to be honest, there's something that bothers me a little bit. When I first read your email, I thought you were probably trolling me -- "hey man, I just ripped you off, and I need your help so I can rip you off some more." I suppose you know that I'm selling the app, and that when there is a sale, I get a few bucks (the app is $4.99, Apple takes $1.50 of that, leaving me $3.49). If you're running a cracked copy, I get $0, plus I have to do technical support for you, which is what I'm doing right now as I type this, and as I looked for the bug. This means that there's real time and effort (and believe it or not, money), just for you, for absolutely zero in return. I try to be a nice guy, I'm doing you a solid by fixing a bug for you, and you're screwing me over. I'd like to think that you're just trolling, but I know how a lot of people out on the internet are.

While it's not a lot of money, the $3.49 does actually matter to me. I don't sell a lot of copies of the app -- the market I'm trying to hit is the intersection of guitar players who own iOS devices, guitar adapter cables, who like synthesizer sounds, and want to play MIDI guitar. Most guitarists have no idea what we're doing is even possible on an iPhone. Trust me, the app has a fairly small audience. Most of the people who are serious about this sort of thing have already dropped a few hundred bucks on a Fishman TriplePlay, or a thousand on a Roland system. I'm trying to bring this sort of technology to a wider audience, but it'll never be anything like the audience for Angry Birds.

You noted that I responded quickly to your email -- I can do that because I simply don't get a lot of people buying the app. I've worked on the app for a couple of years, burned a lot of midnight oil, and at the end of it, I make a little bit of money (probably about half minimum wage, considering the hours I've put in). There's a myth that app developers are rolling in dough -- but the average revenue per app is about $4k, and only a handful of developers are able to do this sort of thing full time. I have a full-time job, because there's no way I could possibly live on what I make on apps. My wife works full-time too. We're not broke, but we're not rich either. And yes, $3.49 does matter. All of the revenue comes in a few bucks at a time. Please don't think that stealing from me is OK.

In many ways, I like that the revenue from an individual sale is small. I know that it doesn't really hurt anyone badly to come up with that much cash. Nobody is risking their life savings on the app. It's a little more than pocket change. It's about what it would cost to buy a cup of coffee and a donut. So when I get a sale, it's someone saying "hey, this is really nice, thanks, let me buy you breakfast." Very friendly. It makes me feel good, and I hope that whoever bought the app feels good too. If the app were $1000, I could understand a lot of people not being able to afford it. If it were a loaf of bread, and you were starving to death, I could understand that too. But at $5, for an app that's recreational in nature -- you're not going to die if you don't get it -- I have a hard time understanding why you'd want to rip me off. And no matter what the price is -- if you buy the app, and it really doesn't do what you expected, Apple will refund the money (and just to make this clear, when Apple does a refund, it takes the money out of the developer account).

While the revenue from the app has gotten to the level where I could get breakfast and lunch covered most days, I don't spend it that way. A lot of what I make from selling the app has gone into the development expenses. I believe that creative people should be paid for their work -- and I hired a professional graphic designer to update the user interface for me. I think she did a fantastic job; she was able to do things that I absolutely can't do myself. I invested a couple of months worth of the app revenue in hiring her; it's paid for itself by now, but it was money out of my pocket to do this. I've also had to buy a variety of guitar interfaces, so that I can test them and make sure things work. And of course, I've had to buy a Mac, a developer license, and a few different iDevices, to be able to do this. I don't have the new iPad, but fortunately, I've been able to hire a beta tester that has one. I couldn't afford a new Mac, but I was able to get a good deal on a used one. I also advertise, which costs me money -- on some of the sites, I think the sales increase works out to be a net gain. There's one site, though, where I advertise simply as a way to help out a blogger because he seems like a nice person who's hit a rough patch personally. I make a little bit of money, but most of it goes back into making the app better, or supporting the iOS music community.

At the end of all the expenses, I'm a little bit ahead, and working on the app is challenging and a bit of fun. I can keep working on things if people buy the software. The way business works is that I have a product, and I put a price tag on it -- if you think it's worth the price, you pay me, and you get the product. If you think it's too expensive, you don't have to take the deal. I understand that you can steal software; we don't live in a world where there's a policeman watching our every move, and I don't think anyone wants to live in a world like that. But just because there's not a policeman looking over your shoulder, do we really have to have a Mad Max world instead, where anything that isn't locked down gets stolen? (And I guess I should note that the app was in fact locked down; you had to jailbreak, and then someone cracked the encryption on the app, so that you could steal it.) Can't we trust each other a little bit, and treat each other fairly? There's a saying that character is who you are when no one is watching.

So, I'll ask you directly. Pay for the software if you're going to use it. If you can't afford the software, don't use it. But don't pay for my app first; while I could use the money, I know a lot of other developers are in a worse situation than I'm in. Pay for the stuff you've stolen from them. Get right with them. If you've ripped off bands by stealing their albums, pay for those too. I can wait. Let my app sit there, unpaid, reminding you of all the generous, caring, hard working people (most of whom are struggling to get by) you're screwing over. You're also screwing over the people who have paid for the apps, bought the albums legally, and done the right thing; it's like skipping out on your part of the tab, because they're paying to help create the things you're stealing.

I'm not naive, though. There's a good chance you'll have a laugh about this, and keep ripping developers (including me) off. Watching the evening news, it's hard to miss the horrible people all around the world. They steal, rape, kill. You name something horrific, there's someone doing it. There's a vast array of scumbags out there, and maybe you're one of them -- and you'll keep on stealing from me, and from all the other developers. You'll probably tell yourself it's all right to do because of (insert excuse here), but at night, when you're trying to go to sleep, you'll know that's a bunch of bull. The excuse doesn't matter -- you'll still be a stealing scumbag thief. But when you pluck a guitar string, you'll hear very quietly in your ears "scumbag" over the top of the guitar tone. That sound will come out of every guitar you play, and it'll whisper just barely when you listen to a stolen MP3. Every time you see someone look at you, there will be a look in their eyes -- and you'll wonder if they know what you really are. But you don't need to wonder, because they do know. And it will be the first thing you think of when you open your eyes in the morning, and it'll be there when you go to sleep, and it'll be there while you dream.

So with that, version 1.9 is now available, which fixes the iOS 5 bug. I really do hope that you start paying for things you use, rather than ripping people off. The world will be a better place if you do. This is probably more service than you were expecting when you sent the email. But I try to exceed expectations, because that's how I roll.