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.


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Comments on “Falsely Accusing Your Customers Of Software Piracy Is Not A Victimless Crime”

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59 Comments
Shohat (user link) says:

Ahem

But WGA made alot of sense , and drove many people with pirated copies to purchas licenses , and commercially was a smart move for microsoft . The paying customers did get some extras , and some of the non payers purchased licenses . The would have to be mighty retarded to not implement something similar (hopefully improved) in the next version .

Shohat says:

Re: Re: Ahem

Software … I think Windows Defender , OneNote , Photo Story . Some other stuff .
IE7 betas , which is much better than the FF this message is posted from .

Either way , They have to be stupid to give up WGA , it’s been win-win for them all the way . With all due respect , the usability of even the best distros(*nix) is barely compareable to win95 , and MS knows it has the power to dominate the market without any real competition …

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Ahem

But WGA made alot of sense , and drove many people with pirated copies to purchas licenses , and commercially was a smart move for microsoft .

Never proven.

With all due respect , the usability of even the best distros(*nix) is barely compareable to win95 ,

Where have you been in the last 5 years?

Mandriva has better functionality and “Yes, you can actually do MORE with it on the web” than any Win9x versions.
What’s even better, is my “not PC literate” family members
who I have switched to using it, all agree that it’s easier,
and because they don’t have to worry about malware, has
actually brought some of the joy back to web-surfing.

And as M$ drops support for important things like updated versions of mediaplayer and whatnot, people using these systems are being left behind.

WGA=Window’s Greedy A*$holes

Anonymous Coward says:

However, all you have to do is search WGA hack on google, and you have at least 15 different ways to get around WGA 15 WAYS!!!! after that, you’re home free.

with that being said:
WGA may have helped acquire more licenses, true. but those dedicated to piracy will work around it. see above. the problem may come when a user buys Windows multiple times. Happened to me. using a broad license for XP, company renewed license, got a new CDkey, and all “old” keys were then said to be bad. took a few weeks to get to all the computers. not fun. i can see a end user, seeing this, and like wtf? ok here’s my credit card. others may lose their computer for a few days battling with m$ over the license. not good.

however, i do support the anti-piracy movement. it’s just that i doubt it’ll ever work. given enough time, the latest and gratest will be cracked. (hell a friend of mine had a cracked version of elder scrolls 4: oblivion BEFORE it was released in stores. how’s that for anti piracy)

Amos says:

People whining about the development of copy protection technology is kinda like shoplifters complaining about the little tags in products that set off alarms in the front of stores.

Even if WGA isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction. There SHOULD be a standard, reliable platform which helps enforce copy protection for all software that chooses to implement it. Most of us have taken advantage of the existing broken system which allows anyone to snag a copy of anything with a simple torrent client… but seriously, it’s time for technology to grow up a little bit.

I administer or maintain several hundred computers running Windows XP. The only time I’ve seen WGA make a “false positive” is under extraordinary circumstances. For example, if someone sets the BIOS date to be 100 years in the future or installs XP with a “borrowed” product key. A better example is that it popped up when a malicious user tried to replace the XP GINA with a hacked version designed to steal passwords. Since the XP core installation was modified, WGA failed and I was alerted to the problem before anyone’s account was compromised.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

People whining about the development of copy protection technology is kinda like shoplifters complaining about the little tags in products that set off alarms in the front of stores.

No it is more like people complaining that as they are leaving the store with their purchased merchandise in hand store security is frisking them to make sure nothing was taken. The real hackers and pirates have already figured out how to get around this minor inconvenience.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re:

“People whining about the development of copy protection technology is kinda like shoplifters complaining about the little tags in products that set off alarms in the front of stores.”

No, people “whining” about the development of copy protection that acts the way WGA does is kinda like “whining” about being arrested for shoplifting something you actually paid for, or did you miss that aspect in this discussion?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

People whining about the development of copy protection technology is kinda like shoplifters complaining about the little tags in products that set off alarms in the front of stores.

Not quite. Actually, not at all. It’s more like people who legitimately bought a product, bringing it home, and some time later being told the product no longer works because that tag now believes it was stolen. There’s quite a difference, don’t you think?

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: DRM does not work

Even if WGA isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

Agreed… but it is not ready for prime-time. If Ford released a vehicle that even 1% of the time broke down after five blocks there would be a recall or litigation. I have first-hand experience of brand new machines failing WGA. Calling someone a thief without proof is called slander. WGA does it every day. Not often, but once is once too many.

There SHOULD be a standard, reliable platform which helps enforce copy protection for all software that chooses to implement it.

I agree… but there isn’t. The only truly effective DRM is one that you don’t have to wrestle with. What is more disturbing is how Microsoft have rammed this non-critical non-update down the throats of users as a “critical update”.

Supadupawindowsscooper says:

WGA doesn't work.

WGA doesn’t shut down your OS if it was cracked. I know two people with this issue and they haven’t seemed to have any problem… MS wants you to submit the name of the company/person who sold you the pirated software. Turning you into a snitch and a pirate.

Personally, I thought that it was illegal for MS to validate–and I think it is–you do have to run the updates to have WGA, so if you know you have a pirated OS on your machine, don’t run the updates.

Updates are notorious for taking down systems and breaking programs that ran before the update… remember when SP2 first came out?

Don’t feel bad for MS… check the financial statements and you will see they clear nearly 20 billion per quarter.

reed says:

WGA is a mistake

“Even if WGA isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction. There SHOULD be a standard, reliable platform which helps enforce copy protection for all software that chooses to implement it.”

At the cost of the end user? I don’t think your being resonable.

” Most of us have taken advantage of the existing broken system which allows anyone to snag a copy of anything with a simple torrent client… but seriously, it’s time for technology to grow up a little bit.”

No it is time to stop the closed software model altogether! It does not increase innovation and turns the end user into nothing more than a number. We want software to empower us not control us.

With freedom being such a intergrated part of our soceity how can anyone think restricting software is a good thing?

Shohat says:

Re: WGA is a mistake

Closed code Stops innovation ? Have you ever touched Linux ? How bout the BSDs ? Or IRIX ? With all due respect , I will never install anything like that on my home computer .
While I can use it , normal person should not know what a process is , what a port is , what an address is , and sure as hell not know what driver is . I don’t understand microwaves and I use them very well , computers should be no different .
The usability of everything non-MS on the market barely compares to mid-90s .
I don’t plan on upgrading to Vista at home though . I am mighty happy with my XP , I don’t need a new DRM ridden mem hog .

ThatDude says:

Re: Re: WGA is a mistake

A few articles I have read recently have said that if you are a gamer, at some point you will have to upgrade to Vista as it will be the only M$ OS that supports DirectX 10. Im thinking that game houses will stay away from DX10 for a while because it would cost them customers. Eventually though Vista will be adopted by a greater percentage of the market and the game producers will switch to using DX10. And the evil cycle continues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: WGA is a mistake

Thanks for your candor, shohat. It takes balls for a novice to come right out and say what he knows in his gut is true when he’s surrounded by elite bastard experts who will tear him apart.

I havent heard anyone ever agree with me before that non-windows OSes are essentially stuck in the mid-90s in terms of usability. But I firmly believe it is true.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: WGA is a mistake

Yeah. It’s amazing… you know, I like, put in this Ubuntu LiveCD into my laptop, started it up, and like, 3 minutes later it was booted up, able to surf the web because it automatically connected to a nearby unprotected access point, and I never had to type a thing. It took too much thinking!

Maybe it’s just that you don’t actually use or understand both, that you’re still scared of Linux? Yes, it’s a different way of thinking about your computer and operating system. No, there is no “My Computer”, “Network Places”, or any of that crap. But you “learned” (read: were indoctrinated with) Windows early, and you’re used to it. You know how to do things in Windows. You probably think nothing of telling someone to run a scandisk and defrag when their machine is running slow. You had to learn that somewhere, though, and it’s the same thing with ANY system you’ll come into contact with that’s not the exact same as you had before. I know change can be scary, but sometimes, it’s for the best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 WGA is a mistake

I’m not talking about the usability of the OS at that level. I can’t even do thought experiments involving being that new to computers.

The windows ui has evolved far longer, with a far larger population, than anyone else’s gui and the result is more refined.

The unix cli has evolved even longer, with a similar population, and is far more refined than anyone else’s cli.

But don’t you dare try and tell me that linux desktops have had as long to refine themselves, and I will refuse to accept anyones claim that a revolutionary bunch of gui designers (ala macos) can turn the world upside down overnight with a brand new superior gui design. Hogwash.

Reed says:

Re: Re: Re:3 WGA is a mistake

“But don’t you dare try and tell me that linux desktops have had as long to refine themselves”

Open source is many times faster than closed source development so it doesn’t take as long.

“and I will refuse to accept anyones claim that a revolutionary bunch of gui “

Refuse to accept evidence? Are you some kind of religious Windows user who won’t accept any ideas contrary to the official line of MS?

designers (ala macos) can turn the world upside down overnight with a brand new superior gui design. Hogwash.”

I dare you to try a live-cd of Ubuntu 6.10 and tell me how Windows GUI is superior to Gnome.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Re: The voice of inexperience?

“Closed code Stops innovation?

One Word. Firefox.

Have you ever touched Linux ? How bout the BSDs ? Or IRIX ? With all due respect, I will never install anything like that on my home computer.”

Have you any experience of non-windows OSs? I have installed and used various flavors of Windows, including the Vista Release Candidate and several flavors of Linux. Only Linux – Mandrake and Ubuntu – had network, sound and printer working out the box without having to find and load drivers, reboot etc. Ironically, the GUI of Vista reminds me more of Linux than windows 🙂

While I can use it , normal person should not know what a process is , what a port is , what an address is , and sure as hell not know what driver is .

Congratulations – you just described most Windows users. Sorry, what was your point again?

The usability of everything non-MS on the market barely compares to mid-90s .

A few years ago I would have agreed with you. Now I’m not so sure. I am not a Linux guru or an evangelist, but I have found Ubuntu’s installation and update mechanisms very intuitive. It’s difficult to make a fair comparison if you have years of comfortable familiarity…

I don’t plan on upgrading to Vista at home though . I am mighty happy with my XP , I don’t need a new DRM ridden mem hog .

I don’t plan on upgrading to XP at home though. I am mighty happy with my Windows 2000, I don’t need WPA, DRM, WGA, and other TLAs. I use Windows XP at work (because I have to), but as for me and my house, the future is looking a lot like Linux.

thinlizzy151 says:

M$ anti-piracy paranoia

When is M$ going to get real and quit trying to beat their customers into submission? I don’t use bootleg software, and I don’t want to. I have no problem with paying for a product, such as software. I also don’t blame M$ for wanting to keep bootleg copies from being used. After all, this is what they do for a living. What I do object to is their ham-handed means of attempting to accomplish this. They might think that by so doing they are forcing people with bootleg copies to go legit. I rather think not. I do know this much, as soon as something better comes along(and Apple is NOT) those Redmond Retards have seen the last of me.

Arif (user link) says:

I' fed-up with Microsoft

I really cannot wait to have a comparable OS that will slowly take a chunk out of MS market share. I used to be a software publisher and sold our software on floppies (ok it was the 90s) with a protection mechanism. After removing the protection our sales doubled (to 20 copies – kidding). Moral of the story, you cannot police people and invade their computers and violate their privacy in any way or degree. Imagine buying a washer from Maytag only to be visited by their people to inspect proper use. OK bad example but just because the internet and software gives us access doesn’t give anyone the right to snoop around our “Personal” computers. And NO I don’t have pirated software on my computer (liar!!). I’m just fed-up with Microsoft and their attitude. Change is coming soon…. I hope.

PS: don’t tell Bill I said that. I need my Windows, man.

PS: don’t tell Bill I said that. I need my Windows, man.

glitch says:

Piracy isnt the only answer..just easier

I have legit copies of XP Home and Pro, and am now playing with Vista 64 [legit, also]. But I am not staying here much longer.

My solution to piracy is open source software. Linux is not for everyone, truthfully, not as many as there could be. I have been using Open Office for 3+ years.

When I was in the business, I “partnered” with Microsoft. I got tired and quit. But I learned enough during my time to be capable of opening other options.

I sit here and chuckle over all the piracy stuff. BSA and MPAA have no concerns with me. If it wasn’t for Windows and/or Microsoft, i wouldn’t have any capability to even view movies, i own neither a DVD PLAYER or a VCR. I go with the lowest possible cable TV, basically local channels only.

I bought a DVD burner only because the new distros of Linux, like Vista, require dvd’s now.

I guess my point is, people have to LEARN to control their computers or deal with BEING controlled.

I am lucky, I “grandfathered” myself in and have not become so dependant on technology.

Piracy is more a resullt of laziness of users and greed of providers.

David says:

Re: Re: Piracy isnt the only answer..just easier

A microwave cooks food. And that’s about it. And people STILL manage to get it wrong, defrost things by partially cooking them, etc.

And a computer is MANY orders of magnitude more complex than a microwave. With complexity comes… well, complexity.

In short, you’re a moron. Any idiot can click on a browser and then click on hyperlinks. Thats “microwave”-style use of a computer. You want to do something more on a computer, you need to put some work into understanding slightly more complex systems.

Shohat says:

Re: Re: Re: Piracy isnt the only answer..just easi

I engineer thermal and chemical control systems and have written apps from REXX for MVS and Assembly code for NEC microcontrollers to retarded VB6 windowing , so I am not using myself as an example of a microwave user .
BUT , many users should be just that . Browse around the internet , play some games , watch movies and chat online .
Person should not know what processor type he has , or what is the frequency of the his BUS is , and why his L1 cache is shared among multiple cores , or why he needs a driver for his sound card .
This is what the future should be about . Professionals will know , users will not . Just like any other technology .

ebrke says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Piracy isnt the only answer..just

Hmm–I guess if the user wants to be brainless, that’s their choice. I’ve never felt like that, and linux has been a good solution for me. I’m no zealot, maybe it’s not for everyone, although once a mainstream distro is installed and configured, a brainless user can make out just fine these days.

thinlizzy151 (user link) says:

Microwaves and Computers

“I don’t know how to handle microwaves beyond the basic usage, this is what a real PC should be. A user should know nothing about a computer to use it. I disagree. Learn about the things you use, to whatever extent freasible. Bikes are low tech, What I don’t know about them is not worth knowing. I only visit the bike shop for parts. When I got a computer, I learned what I needed to know. I’m no technician, but I’m not afraid to get inside the thing. Haven’t messed up yet. Microwaves I leave alone so far as repairs go. What I’m getting at is people designed these things, therefore they are understandable. Learn about them, mess with them, know them. You’ll be better off.

Glitch says:

a service called "Rebel"

OK, I’ll show my age. That was a sevice from back in the Commodore 64 days. I paid a monthly fee, about $ 7.50 US a month, and recievd disks [5 1/4 inch SS/SD…lol] with kraks for software being released within the next 30 days. And i spent $20 US for a chip I soldered to my Atarl 800XL computer, that circumvented any and all protections. I guess I helped kill earlier computers.

And in the early PC days, I always bought the latest/greatest Central Point Software package, that broke most schemes. Back then, I also subscribed to newsgroups and newsletters that gave detailed instructions on what to modify to eliminate copy protections.

Back then, Microsoft had ambitions and goals, to be where they are. And they were one of the few that had NO copy protection, just like today.

Piracy is as old as computers. And like computers has gotten easier. Dummy-downed.

claire rand says:

apples, pears and bananas

wga isn’t the problem, the problem is the attitude of the call centre when you get a false activation. if they could sort that out it would be less of a problem.

yes i have installed my copy of xp home a good many times (on the machine it was bought with), oh dear i now have to phone each time. as a result the online whatsit *never* works. they have refused to give me a new key. dispite me having the origional disc in my hand when speaking with them.

useless, the fact the idiot i spoke with had a weaker grasp of the english language than myself didn’t help much either.

apparently i needed to phone an 0870 number during office hours *and* be sat at my pc at the same time to sort anything out… umm. yeah right, i can’t phone premium rate lines from work, and funny.. I’m at work during office hours.

I did ask where i sent the bill for my time if i took a day off, i think that confused them.

so while i still have xp home, having removed wga the last time it did the rounds, and then disabled automatic updates.. its a temp measure.

i duel boot linux (well i have a second machine i can boot) its not ready to take over yet, not by a long shot, but its getting there. MS want softwere rental in place before its good enough to use as an alternative.

apple? can’t comment, never used one. have one on order though (24″ iMac) and i’m switching to that.. it may phone home, i don’t know or care. as long as it doesn’t accuse me of being a crook and pop a box up asking for my credit card details i’m happy.

(p.s. I’ll prob have exactly the same problems, but a nicer machine to look at while moaning about them)

i *want* a bananananananana junior…

xxl3w says:

Linux has no copy protection

You’re right, linux doesn’t have copy protections. When i got into linux back in the day, i was really discouraged with it, (i know it’s changed) but i installed it thinking i wouldn’t have to pay for anything. don’t you know as soon as i got it up and running i had to pay for my soundcard drivers? pay for my videocard drivers? this was really the early days of linux. needless to say, i didn’t pay for anything and reinstalled, i think it was win95? might of been 98se, but i thought it was amazing how they can charge you for things like this. i think hardware companies embrace linux now and most of the drivers have been written by independent people. who knows? i stay away from linux now-a-days.

Solo says:

“It’s nice to think that you can boost your bottom line by turning pirated copies into sales”

That’s a good one. This flawed reasoning has seeped into the industry so deeply for so long that now they belive it.

You can’t turn pirated copy into sales. At all. It’s called path of least resistance. If suddenly Microsoft (or any vendor/DRM scheme) comes up with the-perfect-solution that will enfore only-legitimate-copy scheme for the whole world forever, then the ‘pirated’ use will shift to something else. Linux. MacOS. Previous version of Windows itself.

The best OS Microsoft has spit out was Windows 2000. What did XP bring? Clearfont and a cartoonish olive green start button.

A lot of people are not realizing that MS can’t bring anything new or better. Transparent window scheme? A sidebar with widgets? Does anyone think Vista is bringing anything revolutionnary?

Same thing with Office. Office 2000 was too much for too many already.

Riggs- says:

I look at sofware piracy this way just like the music industry… Look how much a single artist makes on one album(if its any good) and then look at how many people download the music… and they still make money.

In my opinion they make alota money the way it is why do they need to attack the few people that use the sofware but dont pay for it. This is my view as a consumer…

On the other hand im taking a C++ class in my highschool and i dont really like it when people want to copy my source code…thats my view as a writer….

Anonymous Coward says:

Riggs – software (and arguably other things) is give and take. Once you get out of high school, graduate college, you might find yourself as a software engineer. I guarantee you will use libraries and source code that other people wrote and you get to use for free. Their generous efforts have made your job easier.

One day, perhaps you will do the same, and contribute free software as payment for when you benefitted from someone else’s work.

Stu says:

copy protection

The early versions of Lotus 123 had a nasty copy protection scheme. This was in the days when they owned the spreadsheet market. It was so unpopular that it opened the door to competition – Quattro, Excel.
Eventually they stopped using it, and sales went up again; but it was too late. They never recovered their position.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: copy protection

Software companies are either profoundly stupid or have the worst short term memory ever. Every few years, they attempt a draconian copy protection scheme that ALWAYS backfires.

A few years ago, Inuit (makers of Quiken, TurboTax) wrote to the boot sectors of the hard drive in an attempt to combat piracy…worst mistake they ever made and they ended up quickly backtracking.

More recently Sony had their little rootkit fiasco.

Yet they never learn. In a few years, another dumbass software company will try again and kick their asses kicked.

Reed says:

Linux has come a long way

“might of been 98se, but i thought it was amazing how they can charge you for things like this. i think hardware companies embrace linux now and most of the drivers have been written by independent people. who knows? i stay away from linux now-a-days.”

Thats too bad because I think it is already more stable and usable than Windows Vista. Granted you have to drop to command line occasionally if you are a power user. It isn’t that bad, just different. For the typical user with generic hardware Linux (flavours like Ubuntu and Mandriva) are easier to install and use than Windows XP.

Pick up a copy of Ubuntu and give it a try. If your into 64 bit try the new version of Edgy Eft that has built in 64 and 32 bit compatiblity and an enormous selection of 64 bit applications.

With a complete selection of 64 bit packages, hardware acceleration for the desktop, and the ultimate ability to fully configure and trick out your system it leaves you wondering… why use Windows again?

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m starting to get sick of people always going on about Linux’s stability. Yes, Linux _servers_ are stable, but the gui world of Linux is much different. I run Fedora and if I leave my box on for over a week it starts to run like shit, programs crash, nautilus freezes up (and don’t try to tell me it is my installation, I’ve had the same trouble with Slackware, and Debian). I won’t try to claim Windows is any better but get off your damn high horse and realize your OS sucks just as much as the ones you love to insult so much.

And if you think Linux is ready for prime time you’re way off. I’ve managed to get 6 people to install Linux and every one of them switched back to Windows within a month.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Another perspective

Installed Ubuntu and ran it for four months. Lots of package installations and upgrades, used heavily, particularly Office Apps, web surfing (safer than Windows).

Only one reboot – for a kernel upgrade, which was optional.

Verdict: Impressed. It ran as quickly on the last day as on the first – sadly, I needed the Hard Drive to help recover a crashed Windows installation (heh).

I will be reinstalling Ubuntu very soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

> im from argentina, and NOT one has a licensed Windose copy, is to to
> expensive for everyone, $100USD is a 2 weeks salary for some people .
> I thinks thanks to wga, and more restricted piracy policies, will push
> more and more to LINUX/Ubuntu installations. thank Bill!! 🙂

If you only pirated their OS I’m sure they’ll be glad when you switch to Linux…

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