Falsely Accusing Your Customers Of Software Piracy Is Not A Victimless Crime
from the is-it-worth-it? dept
Earlier this year, Microsoft ran into all sorts of problems with its “Windows Genuine Advantage” (WGA) program that was supposed to check to make sure people were using legitimate versions of Microsoft Windows. If it found they were not, it would shut down the functionality of the operating system. That’s one way to try to prevent counterfeit copies being used, but it also runs into a lot of problems when the software falsely accuses legitimate users of being crooks. And, in the case of Microsoft’s WGA that seemed to happen quite a bit. Over the summer there were reports all over the place about being problems with WGA and how legitimate users were being told their installations were pirated, forcing Microsoft to back down. So, what are they doing with their next generation Vista operating system? Putting pretty much the same system into it, with a different name. This time it’s the Software Protection Platform (SPP), and it has the added feature of being a platform so that other software providers can use it to accidentally lock legitimate buyers out of their software as well.
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has written up an opinion piece over at ZDnet, pointing out many of the problems with this approach. He points out that Microsoft defends the program by noting that “Software piracy is not a victimless crime.” Adrian responds: “wrongly accusing someone of software piracy is also not victimless.” This is similar to the movie industry, which still hasn’t figured out that treating people like criminals is hardly a way to encourage loyalty. Obviously, software piracy is an issue for Microsoft, but there are other ways to deal with it than making life difficult for your legitimate users. For much of its lifetime, Microsoft has figured out that it can build an incredibly profitable business on software sales without being too stringent on copy protection techniques. In fact, it’s lack of copy protection in many cases helped Microsoft become the de facto platform around the world. Even when people pirated, it helped build up Microsoft’s network effects, and often resulted in many more purchases at a later date (which even Bill Gates has acknowledged in the past). Why the change of heart? It’s nice to think that you can boost your bottom line by turning pirated copies into sales — but if it also means making life difficult for many legitimate users and weakening your ability to be the defacto platform, it seems like there may be some additional costs that Microsoft hasn’t yet factored in. Not only that, but the stingier Microsoft gets on things like this, the more it opens up possibilities for alternative open source or free providers to use Microsoft’s own words against them.