- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

Today we’ll look at the state of software piracy and why it isn’t going away.

A friend of mine wanted to use Adobe Photoshop Elements, a version of Adobe’s Photoshop that has been detuned for nonprofessionals. Both Elements and Photoshop are used for repairing and editing digital photos. Both are superb programs.

But it did not occur to my friend to buy the program. He wouldn’t shoplift a stick of gum, but software? You don’t buy software. You get it from friends.

Which he did. A buddy had it, who had gotten it from someone else who had gotten it from someone else, et cetera. He got a copy, and I watched him install it.

Now, software companies use all sorts of installation keys and online registration and so on so that you can’t install illegal copies. Forget it.

The pirates are way ahead. When my friend opened the pirated disk, he found both the software and the following instructions:

“When you open the CD, you will see two items. The second one is a Word document. That is this document.

“Open it and either print it out or put it on the task bar for reference. Now click on the first icon. You are presented with several icons. Click on the Crack icon. This brings up the Key Generator. Generate a Serial Number. Copy it to the Clipboard (Control-C).

“Now click Back to the previous window. Click on the first Icon, Adobe Photoshop Elements. The third folder or Icon in the next window says Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 Windows Installer Package 80,015 KB. Click on it, and the installer will commence. Paste in the Serial Number when it is called for (Control-V), and the program will install.

“Don’t choose Setup to install the program; that doesn’t work. A nag screen will come up, asking you to register. Don’t do that. This nag eventually went away on my machine, but you may have to click out of it each time. That’s the inconvenience we must put up with.”

It worked fine. So much for copy protection.

In much of the rest of the world, including Thailand, Mexico, Laos and China to my certain knowledge in the last few years, any software you want is available, in street stalls, for under five bucks. This includes very expensive high-end engineering applications like AutoCAD.

These are “broken” versions, with instructions for installation as above. In Bangkok I have seen a series of disks called Gig1, Gig2, etc. for three bucks each, with about a dozen programs per disk.

These versions come into the United States with tourists, or by e-mail or File Transfer Protocol, or bright students at engineering universities bring them into the United States. At that point they are loose and multiplying. A couple of months ago, in Washington, I watched as a lobbyist of my acquaintance casually offered to friends, from a sheaf of disks, Photoshop CS, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0, the latest WordPerfect, and so on.

We have a situation in which pirated software (and music) is illegal, like marijuana, yet everywhere available, like marijuana. Software houses will make money selling to corporations, or bundling software with other products. Individuals simply copy it.

Rightly or wrongly, much of the population ignores what amount to unenforceable laws. Piracy may be illegal or immoral. So was hooch during Prohibition.

Short of a miracle, copying will continue, leaving us with official and de facto approaches to law.

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