I have the feeling this is going to be one of the more controversial entries I've posted in a while... we'll see.
Anyhow, while in Asia this time around, naturally, I and my fellow travellers frequently encountered vendors of pirated movies, music, and software, and we frequently bought some of their stuff. The interesting thing is, the co-workers that we met with also partook in this practice unabashedly. Now, if one wanted to take a moral absolute, all of us should really be branded as hypocrites... But is piracy totally evil, without justification? Just like Communism, for example, a lot of people in the West seem to have a one-sided, black and white viewpoint of something which is a complicated issue.
As an example, look at many countries in East Asia -- piracy, for all its evils, helps build a base of demand for your products and fuels the sales of hardware, without which your stuff is useless anyhow.
What do I mean? There needs to be a established base of music listeners/movie viewers/software users and owners of hardware, like CD players, etc first. Without evil piracy, sales of PCs/CD/DVD players in Asia would have been much less than what it is now, and most people would not have heard of most Western software movies or music, if they had not been ubiquitously available.
So, in developing countries like China, piracy, by fueling a demand that would not have otherwise been there, and ensuring a base of owners with appropriate hardware, lays the foundation for a consumer base. Then, as economic conditions improve, companies move in there, leverage those customers and sell legit products at locally-affordable prices (this is a key point -- no one in any part of the world will pay the equivalent of a week's salary for a CD, for example). Look at places like Japan and Korea that are considered "developed" now. Of course, there's still some piracy in those places -- you can't eradicate it completely, but because you have these people now clamoring for music/movies/software, you now have a thriving music industry and market, both for local artists and for foreign corporations. As a country moves from developing to developed, so will piracy gradually decrease, if companies first build off the existing base of consumers which have been created by pirated material, and market to them (through the selling points of higher quality, etc.) rather than alienating or antagonizing them.
And of course, many times, piracy is the only option, if a company doesn't release their product there. One corollary and positive effect of it has been movie studios, for instance, releasing movies nearly simultaneously worldwide, whereas in the past, in Asia, one would often have to wait for months for a release, if it was to be released at all. In being a stimulus to create buzz and hype -- and ultimately, demand for more -- in countries where the American media juggernaut hasn't reached yet, piracy has been wonderfully successful in this regard.
Essentially, the blunt, hard, truth in much of the developing world is this: without piracy, you would not have had that base of potential consumers to begin with. It's a win/win situation, for the people, for the hardware makers, and ultimately (while it may take time) for the software and content makers as well. Sadly, the myopic vision of most of the corporations fail to grasp this fact.