Walk the plank....or not! Help Microsoft eliminate software piracy.


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Feb 15, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Several times I have written about "Software Piracy", and I think a lot of my readers get a little tired of hearing about it, but something happened this week that started me thinking about Software Piracy again.
Microsoft made Software Piracy Prevention a voluntary thing.

Of course Microsoft will probably pitch a different explanation, but what they actually did was post an "update" to Windows 7 that had lots of anti-piracy software in it, and told their customers that it was "voluntary" to install the anti-piracy software.

Now this was probably in response to another time when Microsoft tried to force down the throats, er....ah..."distribute" anti-piracy software for Windows XP, but that time they called it "critical bug fixes" and made a lot of their customers mad because they installed the "bug fixes" and ....hello! The "fixes" did not fix any bugs, and in some cases caused the customer's systems to act in very bad ways. Very, very bad ways! And of course Microsoft's customers then acted in very, very bad ways.

So this time Microsoft decided to call the anti-piracy software what it really was, and to make its installation "voluntary".

Think about that for a moment......why would anyone (and especially a software pirate) voluntarily install software that might cause their system to stop working?

Now you could take the Pollyanna viewpoint that most people have valid, upstanding licenses for their systems, and the anti-piracy software would work just perfectly and your system would continue to work. Or you could take the more realistic approach and say that license management is difficult and costly and that some of your software may not be licensed perfectly (although most of your software is) and only some of your software will stop working. Or you can take "maddog's Approach Of Least Pollyanna" (mOLP) and say "even if I try to have fully licensed software, my boss is going to think I am crazy to install this, and if I do I am a toad."

Or you can take the "Totally maddog" (Tm) approach and laugh at people who even have to think about this issue, because you use Free Software.....but I digress.

Unfortunately it is not a laughing matter. The same company that put out this "voluntary" anti-piracy software is also one of the sponsors the Business Software Alliance. Even though the BSA has the same initials as a youth organization in the United States, they are no set of Boy Scouts. The BSA goes out and hunts down the software pirates of the world and makes them walk the plank. This is so user-friendly organizations such as Microsoft (one of their sponsors) does not have to be seen as the bad guys. Remember, it was only a few years ago that Microsoft pledged to be "gentler and kinder" or something like that. Actually I just looked it up, and it was July 17th, 2000....so they had ten years to get "gentler and kinder"....but I digress again!

On the other hand, a couple of years ago a project to put inexpensive computers out to digitally disadvantaged people was jeopardized by a not so "gentle and kind" delegation that was coming to see the president of a certain large South American country. Those of you who know me can probably guess which country this is.....

The "not so gentle" (in fact from my viewpoint they were rather crude and ugly...but I admit to never having seen them physically) delegation was stressing to the president of this country that putting Free Software (software that included not just the operating system, but an office suite, databases, secure and working web browsers, and many more fully functional programs) on these computers was encouraging software piracy!

The argument made (obviously from people never on a winning college debating team) was that as soon as 75% of the computers were handed out, the end users would remove the Free Software and install proprietary, pirated software stolen from this same vendor. The solution, the vendor claimed, was to install a (almost non-functional) version of their software at a very low cost to the government, which would also (of course) keep the Free Software off the system.

The president of this very large, very honest country did not want to encourage software piracy, but did not know how to respond. Fortunately friends of Free Software contacted me and asked me what I thought of this issue.

"Mr. President", I said, "Software Piracy is everywhere. Even the United States has (at that time) a piracy rate of 34% (now it is 20%)."

At that time the large, South American country's piracy rate was 84% (now it is 58%), so of course there was a concern that people replacing Free Software on the laptops would create software pirates.

But wait! I pointed out to the president that just having the rather dysfunctional version of software offered for the laptops would not stop software pirates from stealing software, since the first thing they would do is go and pirate a full copy of the software and put it on their system, creating close to 100% piracy of that company's (and other companies) software. Free Software, on the other hand stopped 25% of the people from pirating software, by giving them a perfectly suitable alternative.

"Finally", I finished, "if this company wanted to keep people from pirating their software, all they would have to do is turn on their anti-piracy tools full, and many people would stop pirating their software. But they are afraid to do that, since most people would simply switch to Free Software."

The president looked at me and said, "I think I will enjoy their visit."

Which brings us back to this latest "update" from Microsoft to Windows 7. Windows 7 has not been out that long. Microsoft has had lots of time to perfect their anti-piracy software and implement it in the base product. Why didn't they just implement it in Windows 7, and turn it on? Why don't they then legitimately put out more anti-piracy software, legitimately marked as "bug fixes"?

Am I asking rhetorical questions? Is the sun yellow?

So please, everyone, make sure your company's or school's or government's Microsoft piracy prevention software is firmly installed. Turn it up all the way. Test it to make sure it works properly. If it can not detect unlicensed software, put in a bug report. Make it high priority! Help the BSA save the world!

On the other hand, you could just use Free Software and kind of ignore all this.

Oh, and for all you people whose countries celebrate Valentine's Day today, please take your significant other out for a good time. And if you are reading this sometime later than February 14th, or your country celebrates on a different day, take them out for a good time tonight anyway.

Carpe Diem!


  • Dear Ironic.........


    Yes, you can DUPLICATE the bits and bytes, the 1s and 0s, the data, yes, it IS copying, and no, you are not stealing it. You are copying it, as you said...


    Where the theft comes in, is with the intangible, the copyright on the intellectual property or the right-to-use it. I am by no means a copyright lawyer (and I doubt you are one either -- IF one is on here, speak up!!), now you may agree or disagree with copyright laws, intellectual property and whatnot, such is your right to have that opinion, but the fact remains that when you use (without permission) intellectual property that is copy written; you are in violation of the law.

    So in short, Maddog is right and you are right, BUT if you "copied" Adobe Photoshop and you went to court over it, who do you think would win? Your opinion or Maddog's? The judge will side with the copyright law, thus Maddog wins.

    End of story. Case Closed. Point made.
  • nope

  • nope


    You cant steal something by copying it. Dont like the facts well too bad because its the WAY IT GOES!!...way it goes rzlmlchm009
  • Microsoft sponsors software piracy

    Microsoft provides a free hosting service at spaces.live.com. Scammers have been abusing this service for the past two years. They set up pages on the service, which redirect to any one of a dozen different illegal web site families. these redirections go to porn sites, unprotected bestiality sites, fake pharmacies, counterfeit watches and luxury goods, and even software piracy sites. You can find all of the evidence of Microsoft's complicity in these criminal operations with a simple Google search on "spaces.live.com redirection abuse"

    By not preventing these sites from providing redirections to software piracy sites, Microsoft puts itself in a very difficult legal position. There are two issues at stake.

    a. By allowing software piracy of their own products, they are effectively placing the software into the public domain. A failure to act on piracy can be seen as a failure to protect the intellectual property and copyright. Some people would argue that this invalidates the copyright of the piratewd software. Microsoft needs to be seen to be diligent in protecting its software copyright, but this is not happening

    b. By allowing blatant piracy of its competitors software products, Microsoft is putting itself in the position of being sued by the rightful owners of the stolen goods. Companies who could reasonably press charges include Kapersky, McAfee, Apple, Autodesk, Corel, Symantec etc.

    The problem is summarized at http://spamtrackers.eu/wiki/index.php/Spaces.live.com which also has links to other stories that background Microdoft's failure to prevent crimes, or worse, complicity in their perpetration.
  • Quality FOSS is everywhere. People are contributing to it and paying rent.

    Fred, I disagree with you.

    There are a lot of people that create high quality works of all types and share them.

    There are also many ways to code FOSS and make money. What is likely true is that some types of coding/coders are not that efficient to society and only strong copyrights or trade secrets (or both) are keeping these developers afloat or at least as multi-millionaires.

    Also coding (creation and problem solving) is very rewarding in many ways, as is usually the end software product itself, as can be the reactions you get (or don't get) from others for your contributions, as can be other career or business rewards you gain indirectly, as can be the effect of having given back for having received so much [FOSS].

    Where the end product is likely not rewarding is usually where you have to deal with requirements specific to customers. These customers would pay for these customizations even if they were for open source. Problem solved.. though not for the multi-millionaire, I admit.
  • Stealing that many may find to be acceptable. Buyers don't want to pay for the sins of others.


    >> stealing is taking something that you don't own without permission... unauthorized duplication is also considered stealing

    This is a different meaning than what stealing normally means: a *removing* of something....

    However, along the lines of "stealing a glance", we can claim that the person is gaining something to which they otherwise believe they are not entitled.

    >> While I support the idea of open source and free software across the board, I can't condone stealing commercial software.

    A similar statement with which many probably agree (even if they object to the use of the word "stealing"blunk might be:

    "While I support the idea of open source and free software across the board, I can't condone *violating the copyrights of* commercial software *but I'm willing to look the other way here and there*."

    Note that a significant number of people feel copyright law as it exists is not constitutional (ie, legal).


    >> There are some people who may want to know if the software they purchased is genuine or not.

    This can be accomplished in a way where, if the answer is negative, the person is not penalized in any way. The buyer may find it unfair to pay for the oversight or crimes of a retailer they believed was dealing with the buyer in good faith.

    Put differently, people may prefer to pass on this patch to wait for a more fair and less disrupting patch.

    Anyone else,

    Personally, I (don't use Windows and I) make an effort to adhere to copyright law and licenses (taking into account fair use), but it's difficult to do so or verify in every case. How many people read the entire terms and services of every website they visit and can attest they adhere to all of them to the T? How many people would refuse to cut any corners or always go with their best guess even if it meant significant discomfort?

    No matter how you slice it, copyright law is overkill in a number of ways, and it remains true that little is lost by others when copies are made and when those using the copies would not have paid money regardless. In fact, people sometimes try to return the favor (of access) through other ways that they find to be more sensible (than what the long monopolies "legally" require).

    It's a part of human nature to want to share (and to want to sample goods). The exploitation of access to legislators, that give a very few entities some significant advantages, cannot neutralize this aspect of human nature (even when the laws appeal to other parts of human nature like guilt and damages for violating customs/rules).

    And before anyone calls me a thief, read carefully what I wrote. Who will cast the first stone? Who will claim they don't violate any of the multitude of "traffic" laws of the Internet superhighway? [Certainly, many Congressman strongly supporting these monopoly laws and executives of these lawsuit happy megacorporations have been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar reaching for some large cookies.]
  • maddog, Right On!

    This is another reason why I leave both Microsoft and Apple products alone. I don't need or want Mafia-style control of my computer, thank you.

    By the way, for those who say copyright infringement is "theft"...you are wrong. Copyright infringement is *NOT* theft, at least not in the United States. The Supreme Court already ruled on this in Dowling vs. United States. Go look it up.

    That said, copyright infringement, while not theft (per the Supreme Court), is still illegal and I would even say generally immoral. So what to do? How do we avoid this "piracy"--er, copyright infringement? Easy--just switch to Free Software! It's legal to hand out as many copies as you want! That's the point!

    And this is also one big reason why Ken "Helios" Starks promotes Free Software, too.

  • gray areas, practical tradeoffs

    No doubt Microsoft prefer people using pirate-Windows rather then Linux.

    On school PCs that require AutoWindowsUpdate i simply install WGA and then
    del %windir%\Tasks\WGASetup.job
    I havent confirmed if it stops it completly. But i suspect it slows it down a bit...
    And it should be fully Legal...

    At home i use a pirate-copy XP for gaming and to better support other's with XP.
    I know i'm actually helping Microsoft and i do feel bad about it. Most people
    got Windows whith thier hardware so they've already payed the Microsoft-fine.
    (But i wont help anyone with Vista/7, i must draw the line in the sand somewhere)
    Linux must fill in the last blanks before 2014 when updates for XP stops...
  • Illegal Copying is Stealing

    Illegal copying means the programmer doesn't get paid. When programs don't get paid, they find new jobs. When programmers find new jobs, quality programs become scarce. This applies equally to movies, music, books, software, and pretty much any creative endeavor. Notice that most of the successful FOSS software aren't end-products in and of themselves, but tools to make end-products. That's how OpenOffice.org can be free: noone wants OO.o, they want the documents that they can create and edit using OO.o. So a company that needs a quality text editor can donate money to improving OpenOffice.org and still save on software costs. Meanwhile quality open source games (the sort that needs massive development teams), while not non-existent, are difficult to find. Take a look here (http://digifreedom.net/node/58) for a better understanding of these copyright myths.
  • You miss a key point.

    There are some people who may want to know if the software they purchased is genuine or not. Some people think so, but in reality they were duped into buying a pirated version. I saw this happen first hand when I went to work for a computer shop down in Florida. The owner had been selling machines with pirated copies of Windows XP. When the first generation of WGA updates rolled out, many customers reported that their computers were now telling them their software was not genuine.

    Shortly after I joined the company my boss instructed me to go out and replace each pirated copy with a legitimate one, including slapping the license key sticker on the back of the case. It was also my duty to tell the customer that the "non-genuine" alert they received was a false positive. Blame Microsoft, that was the official excuse I was instructed to deliver, despite it being a complete lie.

    Regardless of whether or not Linux users think people should purchase Microsoft (or any company) software or not, people should be given the tools to verify they received the license they paid for.
  • Stealing

    I was always taught that stealing is taking something that you don't own without permission. In this case, unauthorized duplication is also considered stealing. Why? Because it is unauthorized.

    While I support the idea of open source and free software across the board, I can't condone stealing commercial software.
  • Perfect summary

    I'm fed up with the "large company". They're taking personal computing in a direction I don't want to go: one that locks down and limits the choices you have about what software you use and what it can do. And their operating system is expensive, DRM-ridden, buggy and prone to malware attacks.

    I also believe in recycling. All of the computers in my house are living their second lives. And all (except one) run Linux. Because it's free ($0) and because I can do what I want with it. I can uninstall, reinstall, use old versions or use the latest version. I can even change "brands" and try a different distribution.

    Some of my friends who aren't techies have asked for my help to get old computers running again. I explain the options (they usually don't have a legit Windows install disk) and when we get to the part about anti-virus software, I mention that it (a) costs money, and (b) slows down your computer. Then I ask what they plan to do with the machine. If the answer is "email, web browsing and some spreadsheet/document creation", I suggest Linux and mention it's free. And it's a rare user of a recycled machine who won't try a free OS. After all, they can always remove it and try another, more expensive OS later if they want to.
  • Five notes

    A few notes:

    1 -- Copying is not theft

    "If I steal your bicycle, you have to take the bus, but if I just copy it, there's one for each of us."

    2 -- It's too bad free software exists, for, otherwise, Microsoft would be able to enforce their anti-copy measures at full strength, leading many to walk the streets at night in a stupor for some days until their bodies and minds would succumb and they'd come weeping back to Microsoft for their Windows fix to pay penalties, fees, and really high monopoly prices even for the crippled Probation Windows they'd likely get at that point.

    3 -- On the other hand, free software is at least "good enough" for just about anybody, so if Microsoft got tough on enforcement today, they'd risk losing their near monopoly and then they'd lose big.

    4 -- Let's not forget either that besides monopoly levers, Microsoft's control of the OS (with trade secrets), gives their applications and services many advantages (generally) over those of rivals (especially at "unfortunate" moments).

    5 -- "Free software" is a superset of free copyleft software, in particular, a proper superset of GPL software (see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html ); thus, modifying "free software" and distributing without source is not necessarily any violation of the licensing terms of that particular software.
  • Totally Agree

    Lets turn on the Anti-Piracy and let the fun begin. I first tried Linux when I bought a broken computer at a garage sale for 4 dollars and I couldn't put my OEM copy of Windows on it. Never a better time to try Linux when the Windows crew kicks you out.
  • Generally speaking...

    Seeing how desktop world is a zero sum game, MS wisely concluded that it's better for desktops to be running even pirated MS than being tempted/forced to switch to free operating systems.

    In some countries such as China, Linux distros would gain about a billion new users in no time if anti-piracy laws were strictly enforced. So MS won't insist, I'm afraid.

  • Anti-pirarcy is bad for business

    I remember when I got my first IBM Compatible - it was all Amstrads and TRS-80 chips before then. And they were really old when I got my hands on them.

    And then I discovered "Doom". Sure I was annoyed that there wasn't a jump button.

    Soon enough I was in a room full of sweaty guys yelling at each other while staring at their computer monitors intently. Beads of sweat on their faces while they desperately fought for life and your death. I didn't own a copy. It was all traded. Every one jsut copied this sort of thing off each other.

    This humble little game was made by some company called id Software. Sure enough, as soon as Quake came out, I went out and brought a copy. I wasn't going to hesitate in the least. Since then I've brought a copy of the doom games, Quake I, II and III. All because of my experience of that one game...

    In some ways, piracy of your product is advertisting. You've got a population who quite probably aren't going to be able to afford your product anyway. So you've now got an indication of just how desirable your product is or at least, appears to be.
  • Copying-cloning

    For a nice graphics view of copying-cloning have a look at:

  • Same old same old.

    When MS brought WGA to XP and made it compulsory, I decided to give Linux a good serious try. Even though I had a fully licensed legal copy. I'm not innocent enough to think that softwae glitches don't happen.

    I succeed. And have been happily using Fedora since version 5.

    So I have Microsoft to thank for my hours and hours of fun and good times learning Linux. It has been an enjoyable experience so far. And keeps getting better.

    Remember.. WGA started off optional too... Have fun Windows people.
  • Way to go m$

    Yeah, m$ and piracy is a very tired subject. I go so tired of it in fact that I ditched everything m$ on my computers and moved to Linux. Now here I am two years later with no pirated software at all - and it is so much better. Thank you m$ for helping me get off the proprietary band wagon! Now I promote Linux amongst all my clients, helping them to see that you can get by just fine without piracy and without needing to pay insane licensing fees!
  • Piracy and Privateering

    I am fairly certain that "Ironic" did not fully read the article, or if they did they did not fully understand what I was saying. "Ironic" probably read the first sentence, saw the word "Piracy" and went off on his tirade. By the way, "Ironic", did it ever occur to you that a company that "duplicates" free software source code, then makes a change to it and distributes a binary-only copy is also a "pirate"? And if it were not for the laws of copyright and licensing, organizations like the FSF could not sue for compliance?

    The relationship between Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance reminds me of some of the origins of "pirates" (the sailors, not the software kind).

    Many "pirates" really started out as "Privateers", commercial merchantmen commissioned by their governments to attack the merchant ships of other nations and plunder them. Then the "Privateers" would share the plunder with the government that commissioned them, and that government would give them some "protection" while in that government's ports.

    Sometimes the relationship went bad, and over time it was judged by the governments that this was a "no-win" situation, so the relationships were canceled, and the "Privateers" sometimes turned to "Piracy".

    Then the governments had to hunt down the pirates and hang them.

    It seems to me that if the Business Software Alliance is really interested in reducing "software piracy" (by any person's definition of the term), they should put pressure on Microsoft to make their "anti-piracy software" not only ubiquitous, but mandatory for users to use.

    Put up, or shut up.
  • Ironic

    You cannot pirate or steal something that is infinitely reproducable such as software.
    Stealing implies taking something irreplacable, but with software it's only a ctrl-c ctrl-v away.

    What are you stealing? A 12 digit key? A Box? A CD?
    If hammers and nails were electronic and could be copied with almost no effort and require only physical space, would you prevent people from building houses to ensure their livelyhood because they weren't licensed pieces of equipment?
    Now if we're talking of hardware, then yes it can be stolen.

    But it seems the author of this blog has trouble discerning between piracy and duplication.
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