One of the most dramatic shifts of the Internet age is towards production of valuable resources by amateurs. It has happened to some extent in almost every field, but some have benefitted more than others. Fields like telescope making, where amateurs have made substantial contributions for a century or more, have seen the most dramatic effect, with resources like the ATM List (of which I was an early, if inexperienced, member) allowing rapid communication between the pioneers of the community and from the groundbreakers to the early adopters. Inventions such as the Dobsonian concept (although not an Internet-mediated invention, its dissemination was certainly accelerated by the Internet) and Mel Bartel's splendid tracking systems made it into commercial designs at every level from inexpensive to astronomically pricey. The Open Source software movement is, of course, another example, with the Internet itself relying on core technologies developed in an open manner, and Linux running some of the largest computers around. What's the point of all this? Certainly not that the traditional IP creators will be gone in another decade. They have plenty to contribute in many areas. However, just as the most important images of the recent war were produced by amateurs with simple equipment, the thousand-eyeballs technique can certainly produce dramatic results.
Until we have sufficient free alternatives for the best commercial software today, we will be constrained to allowing piracy at an individual level or to simply writing off a good bit of our economy's productive potential. Much of the work I do in various fields would be near-impossible were I not a student. JMP statistical analysis software costs $995. Much of the Adobe suite is around $500 per piece of software. Music composition software like Finale is less expensive, probably because it is a field which acknowledges the market for amateur work. So what is the problem with requiring someone to spend these sums to produce their valuable product? A major problem is that the value mostly accrues to society, not to the producer. IP law does not create incentives to create for free products. Another major issue is the upfront cost: even if I were willing to pay full price for JMP now, given how valuable it was to me in writing two mini-papers, had I been required to pay $1K at the start, I would not have been willing to do so just to explore the possibility.
So what's the solution? Software companies could distribute low-cost or free software as long as it was not used for commercial purposes. If this proves too vague, a central commons site could be set up where users of the software would be required to contribute at least one item per piece of software per year, an item that the community vetted as valuable enough to deserve the software. The commons community could be given a certain number of credits to distribute, and at the end of the year, those whose contributions were deemed valuable could choose who got free licences next year. There could even be an arrangement to require repayment for the year's license fee at a discount if the individual didn't receive a credit.
N.B. This is most useful for a particular kind of program, those few well-designed pieces of software that seem perfectly-suited to their role and fill a niche, with a minimum of frills. This is most common in science and academic fields, but graphics design and CAD fields also have some nice applications in this mold.