Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 21 / FEBRUARY 1982 / PAGE 16

Computers And Society

David D. Thornburg
P.O. Box 1317, Los Altos, CA 94022

On Piracy...

As the mist cleared we could see our goal before us. High in the foothills overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the opening to the cave was unmarked — except for the power lines which snaked their way into the cavern through a crack in the rock.

"You are on your own now," my guide said as he scurried down the hill. At last I had found the home of the famed software pirate, Long John Silicon.

As I entered the cave, I asked myself why an editor of a prestigious magazine would risk his life in pursuit of a story, but the recent lawsuit preventing Long John Silicon from selling his home video copy of Tooth Fairy was too exciting to ignore.

With a great heave, I opened the door and found Long John sitting at a keyboard, ready for our interview.

DT: Long John, you have a reputation as a vicious software pirate. Tell us—is it deserved?

LJS: Aye matey! I am the meanest software pirate to ply the 57 keys. Once I see a game I like, it is only a matter of time (usually months) before the game is up and running on the computer of your choice.

DT: Wait a minute. I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I thought software pirates just made carbon copies of other people's software.

LJS: Copy existing programs? Ha Ha! Oh matey, you must be kidding! My parrot wouldn't do something that easy. No, what I do is the true pirate's craft. I slink around the arcades looking for new games. When I first saw Tooth Fairy I knew that riches were at hand.

DT: Once you find a game you like, how do you go about copying it?

LJS: First, I spent many pieces of eight playing Tooth Fairy, gaining mastery in every aspect of the game. In the space of a few weeks I was playing the game in my sleep. Next I created a story board for the game.

DT: Excuse me, Long John, I'm not too versed in the pirate's craft. Would you tell our readers what a story board is?

LJS: Of course. A story board is a visual map showing the play of the game. It includes pictures of the screen and so on.

DT: That sounds like a lot of work to go through before writing any of the program.

LJS: Of course it is. Who said piracy is easy work? In any event, once the story board is finished the real work begins. One just doesn't sit down and copy a game without worrying about display resolution, color, machine speed, game controller options — ah, the stories I could tell...

DT: Yes, well I am sure our readers would be fascinated, but tell us more about the game. Is it an exact copy of the arcade version?

LJS: The same? How insulting! I've half a mind to slit you from your index register to your stack! No pirate would miss the chance to improve on a game. To start with, I spent about as much time copying Tooth Fairy as its creator's spent designing it in the first place. Why shouldn't I improve the game.

DT: Oh, I agree with that; but why is this piracy then. After all, people who write love stories aren't being sued by Shakespeare's estate. From what I can see, you might have created a new game.

LJS: No! A thousand times, no. If my version of Tooth Fairy was new, I wouldn't have been sued for infringement by Ajax Computer Company would I?

DT: I guess not. Say, your copy of Tooth Fairy runs on the Ajax computer doesn't it?

LJS: Yes, in fact it has helped sell their computers. Most of the local computer stores used to use my game to show off the Ajax's power.

DT: Then why are they suing you? They didn't write the original software.

LJS: Yes, that's true; but they did buy the home video rights to the game, so I guess I infringed on their copyright, even though they didn't write any of the original program.

DT: Well, I'll bet that their version of Tooth Fairy is a real knockout. Now that your program is illegal, I assume I can buy theirs.

LJS: Oh no! First of all, they have to go through all the work I did to get the game to run on their computer. Their version is at least six months away.

DT: What a shame! Why didn't they just license your copy?

LJS: License me! A pirate! Shiver me disks. Why would they do that? Of course I asked for a license, but they insisted on having the job done over.

DT: I'm not trying to downplay the devious immorality of your crime, but I am still having a hard time thinking of your work as piracy. Tell me, are you countersuing?

LJS: Aye, a countersuit is in progress, but I don't have the legal resources of a company like Giant Toys, Inc.

DT: Oh yes, Giant Toys sells a hand-held version of Tooth Fairy. Is Ajax suing them too?

LJS: Not yet. Ajax only has a few attorneys, and they can't sue everyone at once. I'm flattered that they picked me first, even if I have to give up the battle when my money runs out. After all, even pirates live in fear of their lawyers.

DT: What a shame. You mean that you might lose because you can't afford the fight?

LJS: Yes. After all, if Giant was sued, the case might drag on for years. My suit will probably be mercifully short. My days as a pirate are nearing an end.

DT: So you have given up on piracy forever then?

LJS: Not exactly. Just last night, for example, I used my video cassette recorder to make a copy of a movie that was broadcast past my bedtime.