In the 1980s and early 1990s, many countries enjoyed a virtual cornucopia of software. For a very affordable fee, one could copy from computer shops almost any Apple or IBM PC software that was also available in the U.S. Students, new graduates and enthusiasts bought cheap IBM clones and practiced basic computer operations, word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, database management, and programming. There was no Internet then, but it did not matter - in the Philippines, a 64 kbps connection ushered the Internet in 1994. A de-facto software commons was maintained in computer shops and bulletin board systems which made software quickly and efficiently available to students and computer enthusiasts. Many computer professionals today - who now form the backbone of their country's computer industry or who enjoy well-paying jobs abroad as overseas workers - had regularly dipped into this cornucopia and acquired their computing skills thanks to the software abundance of that period.
Back in the U.S., software developers tried various copy-protection schemes, from non-standard disk formats to hardware dongles17. But the best minds of the U.S. software industry were no match to the resourcefulness of hackers and altruists who wanted to keep the abundance coming. Some U.S. companies even specialized in software that duplicated copy-protected software. Other software developers abandoned copy-protection to gain competitive advantage, and consumers responded favorably. Eventually, the U.S. software industry gave in and, except for some niche markets, abandoned technical copy-protection schemes altogether.
Invoking copyright laws did not help much. Though software were legally protected by copyright laws and international agreements, many countries did not take these seriously, preferring to let their citizens enjoy the abundance. People likewise knew that governments enforced laws selectively anyway, whether they were laws on minimum wage, corruption, pollution, taxes, elections, or copyrights. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the U.S. itself was a center of piracy of British books and publications. Subsequent experiences of Japan, Taiwan, Hongkong and other countries/territories likewise showed that copying was a necessary stage in national development. Furthermore, the countries which complained most loudly about piracy of their intellectual property rights were themselves most guilty in pirating intellectuals such as doctors, nurses and engineers from the Third World. The latter was deemed a more malignant case of piracy because it took away the original and left no copy behind. Finally, how can a government clamp down on its citizens when commercial software was likewise freely copied among government computers?18