I was browsing Reddit today, and came across a link to a website where a developer had decided he was going to take the software piracy fight into his own hands. This person had programmed an application for Mac computers that allowed people to make videos using their desktops, which would they could later use in training videos to show where someone would click to perform a certain function.
Now this application seems to pirated quite frequently among the Mac community and as such, the developer implemented a feature that would check the registration key you used to “register” it, which isn’t uncommon nowadays with the advent of the internet and subsequently file sharing programs like BitTorrent or Limewire. The difference between most other programs and his, is that if the key you use to register it is known to have been stolen, it will erase a random file on your computer.
Now I will admit, I have used software that I may or may not have obtained completely legally, but regardless, does my breaking the law give the creator the right to delete data off my hard drive? No where in the License Agreement does it state that “by breaking the terms of this agreement, you give the creator permission to delete random files from your computer”; it just does it.
On the website where he explains his actions, almost every post after his lambasts him for the actions and suggests that he should seek legal counsel. I’m not saying that every person on the internet knows everything there is to know about law, however the sheer number of people suggesting it would indicate that he might have something of a battle on his hands.
I guess what’s got me most up in arms is how he is determining which keys are legitimate; what happens if the key I legally purchase is somehow misidentified as being stolen? I would lose my data, and he would very quickly lose me as a customer. He would also quite quickly find a subpoena in his hands demanding that he pay me reparations for my lost files.
Or from another perspective: when you pay for software, 99 times out of 100, you are paying for the right to use that piece of software on a single machine. You give programmer money, he gives you the right to use his software. Which key you use should never even be considered. For example, let’s say I pay Microsoft $300 for a copy of Windows. In the most strictest sense (according to their usage agreement), I’m not paying for the box, the manual, or even the CD, I’m simply paying for the right to use their software. This is why technicians with large corporations with hundreds of computers are able to install Windows on their PCs with any of the keys they purchase; Microsoft doesn’t care which PC has been installed with which key, they just care that each PC has a licensed purchased for them. If you use the same key on every one of them, what the hell do they care? The fact that I have a legally purchased key or keys in my possession is my proof that I have the right to use that software.
My main worry surrounding all of this is its potential for abuse. I now know that the developer has taken it upon himself to protect his software by deleting files if he believes I’m breaking the rules. How can I be sure that this is all he’s doing? Deleting random files by any other software would be considered a trait of malicious intent at best, and a trait of a virus at worst. Should it not be treated as such?
At any rate, I do believe that programmers should fight to protect their intellectual property. As a musical artist, I know the value of people stealing my work, and I believe that owners of that property should fight tooth and nail to keep control of it. I do not believe, however, that instilling fear in not only the pirates, but also well-intentioned, paying customers is the right way to go about it.
As an alternative, perhaps the program could remove itself when these keys are detected. At the very worst, it would be a nuisance for the paying customer who may have to call customer support to get a new code, but I would hazard a guess that the developer would rather that than a lawyer.