Friday, October 26, 2007

Copy Protection punishes honest people

I worked at Adobe Systems first in 1985, before PageMaker 1.0 was available. In those days software was copy protected through various means, all of which were nefarious. Aldus used to drill holes in the floppy disks and the installer would look for the bad disk sector to correspond to it.

Copy II Mac was a free utility that defeated copy protection easily. If you wanted a free copy of PageMaker, or any other app, you could get one.

22 years later, the situation is different, but the outcome is the same. If you actually buy a legal copy of software, you are either inconvenienced or completely incapacitated at least once by the copy protection (now called "activation"). I have a legal copy of Adobe InDesign CS3, and my computer freaked out so I bought a new computer and transferred all my stuff to it. I launched InDesign and it told me I needed to reactivate the software, but wouldn't let me because my old (dead) computer was still on the list. Instead of a nice easy way to say "transfer one of these licenses to your new computer" maybe with a nice list of my activated computers, it just told me I couldn't do it, and needed to call the 800 number. I've called twice (it's 9:00pm on a Friday night), gotten no one on the phone, but I've entered well over ONE HUNDRED digits on my phone accompanied by many # keys to confirm that no, I can't activate this computer.

They give me 5 days to solve the problem, which is better than shutting me down. But they put the onus on ME, the paying customer, to do all the work of reading or typing in all these god-forsaken keys into the phone or the activation screen. They are punishing me, again, for being a paying customer. And if I don't get this resolved in the next 5 days, on my time, calling and entering numbers and waiting, then I can't use the software that I paid for. The frustration level is very high.

The true criminals have a much easier time of it: they just go get an illegal key off the internet somewhere and away they go.

For a while there, maybe a good decade, everybody had done away with copy protection because it was well known that it punished the wrong people. It's come back, and it's as bad as ever. I guess there's a new generation of people now who really do believe they can prevent software piracy, and all they have to do is get the customers to enter 30-digit numbers. They're wrong, as were their forebears. I don't know if I can wait for the next cycle of anti-copy-protected software to come along.

1 comment:

john said...

one thing that i love about iwork is that the install is easy. however, you do need to enter your license 3 times, one for each app. but nothing nefarious like these bizarre activation schemes from adobe and microsoft.

somehow, my legal copy of windows vista, (running on parallels) became "deactivated". i couldn't even boot to the desktop! it's one thing to sabotage an app, but the whole os?! that's another reason i'm glad i'm a mac user. i don't have to worry that a corrupt prefs file is going to mean i don't have access to my desktop. (well, i guess it could happen, but you know what i mean).