According to a biased industry trade group, half of all PC users have pirated software. I think this number is either way too high, or way too low, but if it's true, then do we really want to criminalize half the people in the world?
I daresay the rate is much, much higher in the third world, where the idea of spending $100+ on some computer code is preposterous. Interestingly, in my experience, to this point, pirated Windows software is what people use in these places--as opposed to free and legal alternatives like Ubuntu Linux (what I use on my PC). I suspect it has something to do with Linux really just getting truly user friendly in the last few years. It's certainly "ready" now, though.
It does bring up an interesting question about fair use though. My own position is that the usage is non-commercial, it should be considered fair use and therefore legal. But some software packages make this potentially tricky. For example, how about software that helps you make greeting cards?
There is not conceivably way it would ever be used commercially (let's just say), so how is that supposed to work? Well, the short answer is "not my problem". But the longer answer I think is to look at the new rage for "apps", which are simply programs for smartphones.
Apps are changing the way we think about the value of software in some positive ways. Personally, I have yet to find any app that made me want to spend even one or two dollars on it. If it's not free, I don't mess with it. I am prepared to endure little advertisements and such in the free apps.
And yet they continue to exist.
But lots of people are obviously buying lots of inexpensive apps, and frankly for most of them I think this is a settling of the prices into a much more appropriate level. Greeting card apps used to be 30-50 bucks, which I always thought was nuts, but whatever. With this notion of "apps" comes the idea of an application as a "small thing". Which I think is a step in the right direction.
Don't get me wrong--I know exactly how hard it is to make a good app, but that's not the point. It's crazy to spend real money on something that just does one thing, and does it well. That is the unix philosophy, and that comes with tons of good, free software.
So my answer? Pirate away, but if it only costs a buck, man, don't be such a douche, just pay for it.
Or tolerate the ads.