Barney's Rubble

Copy Protection: Aaarrrrrgh

When it comes to licensing, some companies might make it seem like everyone's a pirate -- including you.

In the mid-1980s, one man led the charge against invasive copy protection schemes. Jerry Schneider of the Capitol PC User Group became an IT celebrity with a nationwide campaign against dongles, 30-digit installation codes, and other nefarious protection and registration plans.

Schneider argued that legitimate customers were treated like scurvy dogs, and when a disk got corrupted, there was no backup -- because you couldn't copy the disk. Shiver me timbers!

While most vendors wanted to hang Schneider from the mizzenmast, enlightened providers waved the white flag and sent out protection-free disks. Now, 20-plus years later, protection is back with a vengeance and legitimate customers are once again treated as potential pirates. Today Windows, Office and many other applications are locked down tighter than Scott Peterson.

Redmond reader Dr. John Myers is fightin' mad. "You buy Windows. You install it. You jump through the hoops of activation to prove you actually purchased the real deal. That should be the end of it. But, no! Want to update? Prove it again. Want to download something from Microsoft for Windows? Prove it again -- ad infinitum," Myers complains. "Heaven forbid you need to reinstall the OS on a major OEM's computer. Dell, HP/Compaq don't provide an OS disk with the majority of their systems. When the hard drive dies, and you use a standard OEM install disk to reinstall the OS, you'll spend valuable time on the phone, talking to a computer (annoying), or someone in India or China, just so you can prove it's genuine all over again."

It's not just the PC software makers. I bought two copies of "Guitar Hero 2" so I'd have a backup. My kids tossed 'em around like Frisbees and now both disks are junk. Can I get a replacement? Sure, for $20 a pop!

Even worse is being "suspected" of piracy. An ex-employee or some ticked off loser calls the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Days later auditors are crawling over your shop like ants on an Žclair.

Dennis Messer went through BSA hell and lived to tell about it. "We were 'turned in' to the BSA for non-existent infractions by a former employee that was terminated." Meanwhile, Messer had already checked over all licenses and things looked fine. But the BSA acted as if Messer's company was already guilty.

Messer searched high and low and sent in a steady stream of license proofs. "The attorney was upset, saying: 'Every time I hear from you, you've found more licenses.' He went on for several minutes implying that we were fabricating information, and spouting threatening speech about the maximum fines."

Is it time to make protection walk the plank? Send your broadside to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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