COPY PROTECTION: FACT OF LIFE?
RHETT ANDERSON vs. RANDY THOMPSON
LIVE WITH IT! We all claim to hate copy protection, and for good reason. Some forms of disk-based protection make our drives grunt and stutter. Look-it-up-in-the-manual protection leaves us wondering exactly how to count continued paragraphs and hyphenated words. Code wheels tend to migrate to that nether-world between the wall and the back of the desk. But how many of us would really prefer to give up this protection? Not me.
Consider the DAT (Digital Audio Tape) debate. Don't tell anyone, but I'm a late-night C-Span II addict. Those of you with cable television will recognize C-Span II as the official U.S. Senate television station. In July, Senator Al Gore from Tennessee conducted a hearing into the DAT problem. Musicians and songwriters want to prevent the introduction of DAT, which for the first time would allow consumers to make perfect (in the strictest digital sense) recordings of compact discs. In other words, consumer audio is about to head into the same problem area that personal computers have always dwelled. With digital reproduction, it becomes easy to make a copy of the software that your friend buys. That means lost sales.
Now if the millionaire rock stars are concerned about digital copying, imagine the plight of the software artist. He or she has a smaller audience. Here's how the developers of Shadow of the Beast put it in their manual: "Unless attitudes to piracy on the Amiga and ST change, we may ignore these machines entirely in favour of writing for consoles, which do not suffer from software piracy."
And therein lies the major problem. Judging from the quality of the Amiga games I play versus the Sega Genesis games I play, I can safely say that the best developers have already left the Amiga. You can easily steal a computer game. Cartridge theft is negligible.
If we got rid of copy protection, the software artists would make even less money than they do now. The current glut of passable Amiga games would slow to a trickle of dismal ones. That would hurt sales of Amigas and other software. Now who wants that?
Looking over at Mr. Thompson's side, we see that he is (surprise) wrong about a few things. First, in case he hasn't noticed, SuperDuper Paint is no longer protected. Virtually no productivity software is. And of course copy protection does help game producers sell their software, or they wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of doing it.
My Esteemed Colleague from Oregon knows a lot of Amiga owners. And he knows our disk drives are still just fine despite the graaaawnkks; pay no attention to him. GRAAAAWNKK RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! It's the sound of copy protection. Worse than that, it's the sound of your disk drive heads being pushed beyond their specified limits—in practice that only your Amiga service center can love. If I hear this drive-thrashing noise when I boot a program, you can bet it's the last time I'll put that disk into my computer. Unfortunately, it's not an uncommon sound.
Copy protection on the Amiga is getting out of hand. In fact, it's getting ridiculous. …
Enter word 5 from line 13 of paragraph 4 on page 107 in user manual A I have a hard enough time finding tonight's TV schedule, much less a single word from a manual that's hiding in my cluttered computer room.
Please insert SuperDuper Paint's key disk. Hey! I put that on my hard disk so I wouldn't have to deal with floppies. Now I've got to find the original 3½-inch program disk every time I want to use my software?
Some copy protection methods are more obnoxious than others, but they all stand in the way of honest users. I sympathize with companies who are losing money due to illegally duplicated software, but copy protection—even the least obtrusive method—punishes the wrong crowd.
In addition to being misguided, copy protection for the most part is ineffective. Companies are fooling themselves if they think that copy protection boosts sales by discouraging would-be pirates. As Mr. Anderson himself points out in our very first "Taking Sides" (sentence 2, paragraph 2, page 8, Spring 1989 Amiga Resource), all someone needs to be a pirate is "enough money to buy a disk copier and not enough sense to know that pirating hurts the Amiga and all Amiga users." Disk-based copy protection schemes are easy to crack using inexpensive disk copiers, and manuals are even easier to photocopy.
The worst problem with most protection schemes is that they assume the purchaser is a pirate and that users don't need a backup. That's wrong. Amiga owners should be treated with more respect. I don't claim to have all the answers, but copy protection isn't one of them.
Looking over at Mr. C-Span's side, I think my "Taking Sides" adversary has been spending a few too many late nights in front of the TV. If you haven't read his argument yet, stop after the first paragraph. You'll thank me.
I think DAT should be introduced at the consumer level—the television and movie industry lived through the VCR age. And unless you live for rote shoot-'em-ups, Amiga software blows the Genesis away. Of course, after several brain-numbing hours watching the U.S. Senate, I, too, might think like Mr. Anderson.… Naww.