How important are ethics?

This subject comes up every month or so, and every time I give my opinion which is always in the minority. Sometimes I think I’m the only one. So once again, as I prepare to get downmodded into oblivion, here goes… 

You forgot Side 3 - I hate software piracy because it’s wrong. Period. It’s unethical, immoral, and illegal. And it’s that simple. I don’t even consider either of your 2 choices because both sidestep the question of right or wrong to examine other issues. This is situational ethics. 

In all the years I’ve been in business, my number one concern has been ethical issues. The partner who disconnected his speedometer to increase his resale value. The vendor who raised his prices to get a personal kickback. The employee who downloaded a customer list and sold it to a competitor. I could go on and on and on… 

I’ve seen stuff like this so many times, and I ask the same question every time, If they will compromise their ethics on something small, where do they draw the line? I’ve seen multi-million dollar deals scuttled because someone didn’t trust someone else because of their personal behavior on a small issue like this. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. It simply isn’t worth it to save a few bucks. 

I’ve heard all the counteraruments. “It’s no big deal.” “Everyone does it.” “It’s not hurting anybody.” “I’ll never get caught.” Or the worst one of all, “They’ve already ripped me off, so I’m just getting them back.” And you know and I know and everyone here knows it’s all BS. We’re just making excuses for what we all “know” is wrong. 

Almost every proprietary software vendor has a complimentary “developer version” or a very cheap “student version”. There are many other ways to get access to software or music without breaking the law or compromising your ethics. But a lot of us are just too lazy to take advantage of these things. 

I would expect programmers, of all people, to be especially sensitive to this issue. After all, we are smart, hard working people who make software. But it seems like I’m always in the minority on this one.