Software Piracy - is there a better way?

  Bargee 11:12 28 Apr 2003

Hi, this is a follow up to the interesting debate arising from my "XP - am I paranoid?" posting & email discussions with the Forum Editor. He tells me that the monitoring & re-activation feature of XP will be seen in more & more software as the manufactures tackle this problem. I have an idea which I think would be more effective, cause fewer irritations & therefore less compaints from people like me!

As I am sure we all know, most software will install & run without being registered. Surely it makes more sense for the manufacturers to build the software so that it will only activate after registration. It is perfectly feasable for the software to start up with the registration screen & internet explorer only. Once registered it will only work for you & if you're stupid enough to burn a copy for a friend, he or she will be unable to use it because the companie's records will show that the registration process is being accessed from a different source thereby raising a security alert which could then lead to investigation & possible prosecution.

Yes I know that basically XP does something similar, but only after it detects what it considers to be an "illegal" installation or major hardware upgrade.


  Sir Radfordin™ 11:17 28 Apr 2003

Is it needed?

Lets be honest, what does XP activation actually require you to tell M$?

At the weekend I upgraded a copy of Win98 to XP using an upgrade disk. This disk had been used before on a different computer but was no longer in use - nothing wrong with what is being done then.

It wouldn't activate over the net or over the phone, but that put me through to the nice operator. All she did was ask for a code and then read one back to me. Didn't ask for a name or a reason. That process took about 5 mintues and didn't cost me anything.

What you are suggesting involves telling the copyright holder far more information about you than the activation XP uses at the moment.

Storm and tea cup me thinks.

  Bargee 12:51 28 Apr 2003

This is about tackling software piracy in general. I have floated this idea as a better & more customer friendly, but tough way forward that would I believe be more effective.

I want to see other peoples ideas on this & I don't mind if I'm torn to shreds over it, I still think this is a good idea worthy of sensible debate.

Lets try to stick to this subject & not be side tracked. I think XP has been covered quite thoroughly enough for now.

  Sir Radfordin™ 13:28 28 Apr 2003

To my knowledge M$ are the only people to really use this idea - its not just in the OS, but in Office, Visio, Project and everything else they offer.

Other vendors do try different things, one example is ACT which will only let peopel connect to the same database if they have different serial numbers for their software.

If I understand your idea correctly then you would have to verfiy yourself as a legit. user via a connection to the software vendor everytime you used the software. That in itself is not a viable option. What about those people who use a laptop or don't have an internet connection?

The only way this is likely to be solved is though very heavy handed tactics that will never be adopoted.

  Lone Crow 13:56 28 Apr 2003

I think you've misunderstood what Bargee is describing. His idea is that the install cannot proceed beyond its initial stages without obtaining a key from the manufacturers. That could be done by phone, fax or carrier pigeon as well as the internet, or even by post? Once the software has been registered they can then see any duplicates right away. I think it's a good idea, though not without flaws. Selling the software after you've registered it is one. It also precludes 30-day trials and so on.

Personally, I like Serif's approach. They offer 30-day full refunds to tempt you to try the product, then tempt you to register by offering free patches, etc (as well as those annoying nag screens, of course!). And once you're a customer they give incredible £10 upgrade offers on each newbie that comes out. Good for them, good for us, and no bad taste in the mouth at being treated like a potential criminal just because you want to try/use their software! If it works for them, why not for others too? Cheers. LC.

  Sir Radfordin™ 14:11 28 Apr 2003

LC, if what you have said is correct then you would be able to do the registration several times. You would only need to know the address that was originally used surely? Otherwise, the real owner wouldn't be able to re-install their software.

Apart from the fact that it seems very easy to bypass the Product Activation methoed chosen by M$ seems to be the best and simplest. It asks for little information from the user and is not in any way intrusive.

Serif's approach is to buy your data from you and see it on to recover their costs!

  -pops- 14:52 28 Apr 2003

This, and your other post, Bargee seem to indicate, to me at least, that it is only you that suffers so much from this.

All or most other respondents appear to accept the status quo regarding product activation and registration. There was a lot of hoo-haa before, and just after, the launch of XP about product activation but all this concern has turned out to be mainly unfounded - like a lot of these panic generating stories.

What vast majority computer users want from their machine is just one that works reliably and well. Whether this is achieved by the Windows system is irrelevant here. They are not interested in fiddling and tickling about with this that and the other inside their machines. Once it is set up and going, they want it to continue to do so. One minor contact of their machine or operating system with its creator is neither here nor there as far as they are concerned and, despite what you seem to think, it is only the one contact except for a very tiny few enthusiasts who cannot help but spend time changing vital parts. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and the people who do it are, in the main, quite happy to do so. Those "in the know" may also have methods by which they can avoid their machine continually phoning home but, that's something else altogether.


  Taran 17:04 28 Apr 2003

has hit the nail on the head there.

The run up to and early post launch days of Windows XP was plagued with activation horror stories which turned into nothing more then media hype. It's a simple and painless process and nobody I know who has had to do it ever complained that it was in any way difficult, inconvenient or invasive.

While other software vendors use different methods I do think that the days of buying a product with a serial number that allows install to complete are numbered for the obvious flaws this brings to that products potential for piracy.

One method of activation that I am very impressed with is for the Alpha Five database program. You install it with a product key, but for continued use you then have to go online and activate it where your computers name along with your product key is used to generate a unique ID. Trying to install the product on multiple computers is therefore all but impossible and changing the network name of the original computer requires reactivation. It's a good system with much to recommend it.

There is one simple reality here though. As long as there is an element out there prepared to both download, share, distribute and use pirated software, there will always be pirated software. Software hackers are a strange bunch and are often proud of their considerable skills (in some cases) where they are able to reset or entirely disable time out features of programs or the necessity to activate them at all.

The bottom line ?

There is no 100% secure method and using the available technology of today there is unlikely to be anything much more secure than those systems or a combination of them currently being used. Some of the encryption methods of distributing personal keys for software could be used to far greater effect than they are at the moment, but I don't see this happening to any great extent over the next year or two at least.

So yes, while there may be better ways of preventing or reducing software piracy, cost of implementation, the ever increasing skills of software hackers and the continued large revenue returns justifiably enjoyed by many software companies go some way to explain why a Fort Knox lock-down is not standard issue with every software product sold today.



  Lone Crow 20:20 28 Apr 2003

Hi, I am intrigued by your remark "Serif's approach is to buy your data from you and see it on to recover their costs!" (I presume you mean sell it on!) I've dealt with Serif for many years now and have never had any suspicions about their behaviour with my personal data. Apart from endless sales approaches from them and their hardware store, which I could stop if I wanted to, I've never had an approach from any other company that might have got my details from Serif. Have you? Is it a well-known and established fact? I'd like to know! Thanks. LC.

  Bargee 20:21 28 Apr 2003

At last, this is the sort of debate I originally wanted to generate with my first "paranoid" thread. There are some great points being raised & already it seems that even though an idea seems good, it's not without it's own downside. Many companies will clearly try out their own way to combat the problem & I guess that they will only know whether it will work or not when it's out in the marketplace.

Clearly the length of time an anti-piracy system remains effective depends on how long it takes the hackers to come up with a work-around they can easily make available to those who want it.

Perhaps the flaw in the XP system may turn out to be it's simplicity of re-activation, especially over the 'phone as there seems to be little attempt by Microsoft to verify any claims being made by the licence holder apart from a code word which could easily be passed on to a "friend". No question that to obtain better verification is very difficult, but could be worth it in the long run.

The only way to really solve this problem is to make sure the deterrent is sufficently harsh/expensive to scare these s***s off into other more profitable or worthwhile pursuits. And I don't mean just the hackers, but also those who knowingly use the stuff. After all, it's the activities of this minority & those who feed off them who have forced the software companies into having to come up with ant-piracy systems in the first place. This impacts on the honest majority by increasing the cost of their outlay as well as the buggeration factor. Now, where have I heard that sort of thing before? Better leave THAT one alone until after the local elections on Thursday!!!

Cheers all.

""The only way to really solve this problem is to make sure the deterrent is sufficently harsh/expensive to scare these s***s off into other more profitable or worthwhile pursuits.""

But therein lies the problem - Software piracy is not a "Crime" as such that the police would be interested in your average Joe bloggs copying his mates CD, they are interested in the "Big players" who copy thousands of CD's. Its these people who are the tip of the iceberg though, and if and when Joe Bloggs is finally caught up with the sentence he is likely to receive is negligible. "Sorry Gov, i've got a wife and two Pentiums to support and me kid sister has just had her first AMD XP" "Oh, Ok son, £20 fine and £15 costs to be paid at £0.20 per week"

If Microsoft (or any other company) was to pursue a civil action against these people it would cost a fortune and I cannot see a realistic chance of them getting the money back - even in fines and cost awards!

This thread is now locked and can not be replied to.

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