Way back when, in the 1970s, a young San Franciscan man was unwrapping some fine shiny software for his Apple II.
A few days later, he started wondering about the real value of the 0s and 1s on that floppy disk. After eating a month old Twinkie and riding a sugar high, he decided to try something brash. He was going to copy that software, somehow, and give it to a friend.
That day was the beginning of software piracy.
This month we're investigating software piracy. Piracy has a significant impact on both the hardware and software industry, to the point where we've had to change the landscape and economics of the gadgets and tools we buy, in order to accommodate the phenomenon. Don your pirate hat, talk to some guy called Uncle Torrence and put a 'z' on the end of every word. We're sailing into uncharted waters.
Over the years, longitudinal studies have been carried out using psychological profiling in an attempt to understand why people pirate software. Studies such as the Triandis Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour in understanding software piracy (Robinson et al, 2009) and Factors Contributing to the Understanding of Software Piracy among College Students (Liang et al, 2005) have attempted to broaden our knowledge. The findings of the studies revolve around:
- The economics of stealing (you're getting something for nothing).
- Soft distribution mechanism (because its software, it can be shuffled from place to place without thought or regard for the actual source).
- Convenience (digital content protection mechanisms and physical media are so convoluted, the argument goes, that its more simple to just jump on bit torrent and do a little torrent window shopping).
- The white hat conquest (the crackers of our world enjoy breaking software protection mechanisms as an intellectual challenge, and nothing more).
- The black hat conquest (the profiteers of mass duplication, sale and counterfeit of software).
Regardless of piracy being morally wrong, and criminal, there are different motivators for different subsets of users.
From the dawn of time
To begin with, piracy was almost an innocent concept; people really didn't think too much about the implications. In the days of the cassette tape and 5.25in floppy media, copying things was a slightly painful process. Neither ProDOS nor DOS 3.3 had any built in copy applications, or utilities, so third party tools such as Disk Muncher came about. Still nobody thought much of it in terms of crime or illegal behaviour. At some point in time, somebody realised it was hurting profits. Of all the somebodies... it was a games company.
The humble checksum
To begin with, copy protection methodologies were primitive. Software was installed with a sub routine that checked to see if the original hexadecimal offset was present on the media. If not, software could make the inference that the media was a 'copy' and not the original. In a similar situation, checksums and 'intentional corruption' were used as a means for applications and software engineers to prevent piracy.