Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 10 / MARCH 1981 / PAGE 4

The Editor's notes...

Robert Lock,

Software Copying Revisited, Or Who's Paying The Bills?

We recently received an extensive letter from a Canadian subscriber commenting on the January editorial regarding software piracy. I'd like to respond to one specific point of the letter now, and request other readers to respond at length as well. Let's get the dialogue rolling, and we'll continue it from here. I really think it's a critical turning point in the industry's future development. I don't presume to suggest we can solve it here, but I'd like COMPUTE! readers to help spark and maintain the dialogue. Here's the prompting remark from the reader:

I agree to a great deal with your comment on copyright of magazines and books and software. I disliked your generalizations about schools. Schools are rather like big businesses. If a business has a number of machines and purchases say a "General Package", is it really breaking copyright to make enough copies to be used on all its machines? I don't think so. I reckon schools are in a similar situation...

First of all, your comment presumes that big business has the right to copy (reproduce) proprietary software. They don't have the right to do so any more than Commodore (for example) would have the right to buy one copy of a program and give it away with all of their computers. Frequently, "big business" is able to buy a piece of software with limited license rights, they pay additional fees. This is not the case with the software we're talking about for our marketplace. I'd like to propose an analogy... suggested by an individual involved in software sales. He commented on a "textbook defense" of software theft, and I'll expand on it here:

Let's assume that you've taken your notes and teaching experiments from the last few years, and spent a recent summer developing them into a textbook, complete with student workbook full of exercises.

You find a publisher, obtain a contract wherein you receive a royalty on sales, go through numerous editings, and finally see your first copy in the mail.

Your book is selling for $19.95, and you're looking forward to some return from your royalties.

Time Passes

Sales are going along okay, but not up to your expectations. I mean it is an excellent book. You attend a regional educational conference, and run into Dr. So and So from a neighboring school district. He says, "We really enjoyed your new text, and it's super! We're using it in all of our classes next year."

Great (you think). Hundreds of sales. "Oh, by the way," he continues. "We thought $19.95 was pretty expensive, so we only bought one copy. We're running off class copies in our own print shop... See you later."

There goes your work, and your royalty. I assume you're concerned, if not angry. Is this any different in principle, from the defense of schools and software copying. Now we all know that realistically, the book would be rather expensive to duplicate. And I presume no one would doubt the illegality of the act. The essence of the argument would seem to become one of ease and expense of the copying. Software comes on an inexpensive, easily transportable media. Therefore, does copying it suddenly become okay? We need to give thought as well to the producers of the work. With commercial software, there's someone out there, after some amount of hard work, patiently waiting for their royalty.

I would suggest that users should not define a $19.95 software purchase as an unlimited right to copy, just as they wouldn't consider doing the same with a $19.95 textbook.

It would be more appropriate to approach producers about school licensing agreements, or multiple copies at school discount through their vendors, or whatever. This rational (negotiated) approach, if you will, would solve problems for several parties... Schools who currently buy multiple copies of software would save money, schools (individuals) who currently buy and reproduce would have full vendor support, and so on. The vendor support is an element we haven't touched on, but is part of the whole problem. I've been told, essentially, "Why should I support the educational market? They just steal my stuff."

A Post-Script

These comments should in no way infer that most schools aren't absolutely honest in their software purchases. We're just using this initial analogy to get the ball rolling. We've heard recently of a major industrial research center on the West Coast that's using approximately 80 copies of a $150.00 plus software package ... copies cloned from their original single copy purchase. And how many times have you picked up that "back-up" copy of Cursor magazine to use just this once?

Defining The Right Of Back-up

Several other magazines in the industry have recently been running advertisements for a program that copies (duplicates) protected software for a particular machine. One of the magazines (Micro) checked with us to see our feelings on such advertising. We indicated that we wouldn't run such ads, given that the software in question could be used to produce duplicate copies of "protected" and proprietary software. We understand that Micro has since decided to do the same.

We applaud this move toward protecting the rights of the software industry, and encourage additional comment.

The Rights Of The Buyer

This isn't intended to be an inclusive comment on the rights of software buyers, but an attempt to open discussion. I already know of one COMPUTE! Associate Editor who has definite feelings on the subject. We'll try to get him involved in the discussion on these pages.

The buyer of a copy-protected diskette has potential problems, and deserves to be protected as well. Vendors of software would remove the legitimate need for copying software if they would adopt a customer oriented, fully responsive plan for allowing licensed owners of software to quickly, conveniently and most of all, economically, obtain a back-up in the case of failure of a diskette.

The principal of repetitive back-ups is rightly embedded in the history of data processing technique, and can't be ignored in an industry rush to protect proprietary software from duplication. Personal Software appears to be trying to deal with this with Visicalc, and I'm sure other vendors are as well. The vendor has the right to protect proprietary software. The vendor also has the obligation to protect the customer's interest. The extent of this protection of the mutual interests of both will ultimately help define the existence of the protection violation market, and the strength of the software market as a whole. We'll eagerly await your comments.

The Boston Commodore Show; VIC Meets The Consumer

Judging from the interest in VIC at Commodore's Boston Show (February 6, 7), the $299.95 color computer entry from Commodore will be well received. One of the biggest unresolved problems of the moment is: "When will production be up and running?" They're currently saying March-April, and I think they'll make it. BASIC, by the way, is the well-known upgrade ROM set, and color animation capabilities are rather nice. We hope that Commodore will see their way to a nice introductory package price. Watch our April issue for a full review of VIC, and mid-April for the availability of our brand new quarterly magazine, exclusively for the VIC. It's called Home and Educational COMPUTING!, and is announced elsewhere in this issue.

Atari Update

They're still selling as fast as they can make them. What else can we say?