Microsoft: 'Software piracy is not a victimless crime'

Microsoft: 'Software piracy is not a victimless crime'

Summary: Microsoft: "Software piracy is not a victimless crime"Me: "Wrongly accusing someone of software piracy is also not victimless"

TOPICS: Windows

I tend to restrict my blogging here to hardware related matters, but I feel compelled to comment on the latest twists in the Windows Genuine Advantage saga.

This latest twist is the announcement that Windows Vista is to have technology similar to WGA "hard baked" into it.  This announcement came today via Microsoft PressPass in the form of a press release announcing Software Protection PlatformWrongly accusing someone of software piracy is also not victimless (shortened to SPP).  (Don't know what SPP is?  Just think of it as WGA 2.0.)  The press release takes on the format of a faux Q&A session with Cori Hartje, Director, Microsoft Genuine Software Initiative.  Scroll down to the last paragraph.  That's the bit containing the "why" behind SPP:

"Software piracy is not a victimless crime ..."

Now, while I don't condone software piracy for one minute (after all, Microsoft has to pay the bills just like everyone else), I do find it hard to generate much sympathy for the Redmond giant.  The way that Microsoft has implemented WGA and SPP doesn’t make it clear that the verdict passed on a PC can be flawed.  Instead they are forcing individuals who feel wrongly accused of software piracy to dig deep into their pockets and come up with another $149, all because of a software bug.  That isn't just wrong, it's evil.

Let me offer the following response to Hartje: wrongly accusing someone of software piracy is also not victimless.

See, the thing that bothers me about Windows Genuine Advantage and Software Protection Platform is not so much the technology (everyone has a right to protect their intellectual property) but rather the Draconian way Microsoft is wielding this power over users.  Microsoft is firmly committed to the viewpoint that anyone flagged as running a pirated copy of Windows must be running a pirated copy.  If the system works and only picks up on those running non-genuine copies of Windows, that's great. Trouble is Microsoft’s old, worn-out story about counterfeit software exposing consumers to spyware, viruses and faulty code wears thin when their own mechanism backfires and starts behaving just like spyware, viruses and faulty code. 

While people running a pirated copy of Windows are causing a financial loss to Microsoft, wrongly accusing a genuine user of piracy is also not without consequences.  There's the initial shock factor of being labeled a criminal, there's the downtime to consider (remember, reduced functionality means no start menu and no desktop icons - for more details visit Ed Bott's ZDNet blog), there's the hassle and the time to get the problem sorted out and then the fear that there will be further demands for money.  I don't see Microsoft compensating anybody for this.

In a perfect world technology like WGA or SPP would work, but we don't live in that perfect world, and no one would say Microsoft products are perfect.  If Microsoft’s programmers can't write code that’s free of vulnerabilities, what makes them think they’ve developed the "perfect" system for detecting pirated copies of Windows? 

So Microsoft, how about publicly acknowledging that every person who has been wrongly flagged as a pirate is a victim of your flawed technology?  On top of that, why not go the extra mile and admit that you owe an apology to everyone who has been falsely accused.  And then offer a refund (and maybe some compensation) to all those who forked over $149 for a new Windows product key – even though they knew their OS was genuine – simply because it was the quickest, easiest and safest way to solve their problem.  At least admit that you could be wrong!

On another note, I'm also concerned by how deeply SPP is embedded into Vista.  Take a look at this (again from the same press release):

“The Software Protection Platform has been under development for several years. It brings together new anti-piracy innovations, counterfeit detection and tamper-resistant features into a complete platform that provides better software protection to programs that leverage it.”

What this means is that Vista is to ship with an extensive, yet undocumented, set of features which other programs can tap into and cripple your system if they think you've been naughty.  It's bad enough to think that a bug in Vista could flag you as a pirate and force you into reduced functionality mode, but to think that other applications can do the same thing is truly terrifying.  The more Microsoft software you install, the greater the chance you get dealt a dud card.

If I were a large-scale corporate customer, all this would seriously put me off rolling out Vista across a company.  The kill switch being triggered accidentally could be a serious blow to productivity.  Hmmm, maybe it's time to take a second look at Linux ...?

Earlier today I sent Microsoft some questions.  Here they are, along with the answers I received:

Q: What is Microsoft doing to eliminate false positives?

“The Windows Vista Validation tools are very accurate at determining if a copy of Windows is genuine or not. We have found that many customers who originally felt their copy of Windows XP had been inaccurately labeled as non-genuine were surprised to learn that they were indeed running non-genuine software, often at no fault of their own. Microsoft works closely with these unknowing victims to remedy the situation. The false positive rate for WGA Validation failure is a fraction of one percent, and in these cases a bug was at fault and subsequently repaired. We are constantly evaluating the criteria for validation and continue to improve the process for customers.”

Q: What steps will there be to protect the user against being falsely accused of piracy?  What steps will there be to resolve problems?

“In the event of a mistake, customers will have a grace period in which they will have full functionality and Microsoft support.  Even if they miss the grace period for some reason, Microsoft will provide support tools and other remedies.”

I've sent Microsoft some follow-up questions.  I'll let you have the answers as soon as I receive them. Watch this space …Microsoft's response

Topic: Windows

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  • Sounds like they don't care who gets hurt anymore

    Microsoft knows they can actually get away with this(barring anti-trust action), since everyone who buys a PC automatically gets Windows. They're leveraging the PC monopoly they have to push Draconian anti-piracy measures to "reduce piracy" and as an added advantage to them, over-monetize(read: extort) the false positives.

    That's the power a monopoly has, Adrian. If Apple or a Linux distribution had tried something like WGA, it would die a quick, flaming death.

    Personally, I'm glad Microsoft is showing so little compassion for the wrongly accused. They're effectively making their competitors look way better. For me, it's yet another reassurance that I made the right decision to be a Linux user. :D
    Tony Agudo
    • OK, let's expand the platform...

      It is common knowledge that M$DOS would not ship unless/until it suitably interferred with Lotus, right?

      Now we jump ahead. Wal-Mart, Circuit City, and Best Buy, CompUSA, and a few more begin to cave to the buyers' demands to purchase non-M$ systems. Toshiba, Acer, and one or two others begin producing non-M$ units to supply.

      Now, all of a sudden the machines purchased from the manufacturers and outlets which DO have M$ on board begin malfunctioning. It's just another way M$ has to force them, like Dell and others were forced to produce MOBOs with only one type of processor before AMD became stronger because of a better product.

      M$ is testing its muscle for further disruptions of usability in order to hurt and "show" those who really want something el$e that they have the power to destroy. It is well established they don't have the power to produce quality, but they are great at destruction and failure.

      If you're content with us all being "inconvenienced" by this small firestorm, how're you going to feel/react when they begin taking on manufacturers and retailers? They won't? Ask the Lotus users from the 1980's.
  • What's your suggestion?

    Do you have a better suggestion on how they can stop piracy? If you do, go ahead and post it for us all to read.

    Microsoft will do the best job they're capable of, and most people won't care or notice the difference. And if there is a group of people who are inconvenienced by having their software misidentified as being illegitimate, some of that group will be indignant, but most will understand. Not everyone that uses a computer has as short a fuse as you think.

    Have you ever traveled overseas? To countries where everything, and I mean "everything" is counterfeit? Well because of the rampant theft in areas like that, legitimate business people can't compete because everyone just steals everything that can be copied.

    Your remarks indicate a lack of thought on the subject. Any company that can come up with a way to stop theft has my support, even if it means I might be inconvenienced.

    Hopefully Microsoft's system will work, but if it doesn't you'll be free to use software put out by the other companies you allude to in your article.

    The people who steal software are the reason legitimate customers are inconvenienced -- just like law-abiding customers have to put up with security checks at airports, banks fingerprint customers, etc.
    • Some points ...

      Let me reply to some of the points you raised there:

      "Do you have a better suggestion on how they can stop piracy? If you do, go ahead and post it for us all to read."

      Why do I need to - Microsoft's bottom line ain't my problem. My views are from a consumer perspective. My concern with WGA and SPP is that a random subset of legitimate customers are being forced down a path of paying an extra tax to use software they've bought because of a faulty system. Heck, in that case why not add an across the board "pirate tax" to the price of every copy?

      "Microsoft will do the best job they're capable of, and most people won't care or notice the difference."

      That's my point, nobody cares until the system flags them, then they care. I've not been affected myself, but I feel for those that have. I've been a long time advocate of Microsoft products but this goes too far.

      "Your remarks indicate a lack of thought on the subject. Any company that can come up with a way to stop theft has my support, even if it means I might be inconvenienced."

      I think that remark alone indicates a lack of thought. Allow me to suggest that your support for this kind of technology would probably evaporate in your rights to use a product that you paid for were wrongfully taken away from you.

      "The people who steal software are the reason legitimate customers are inconvenienced"

      Nope, legitimate customers are inconvenienced by a poor system. And don't start equating WGA with airport security, because as far as I'm aware pirated software has never tried to blow up an aircraft.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Corrections

        [i]My concern with WGA and SPP is that a random subset of legitimate customers are being forced down a path of paying an extra tax[/i]

        Hey, what's good for Microsoft is good for the country. Improving MS' bottom line will raise every stock index out there, and your 401(k) will thank you for it.

        [i]to use software they've bought[/i]

        They didn't buy it. The EULA says so. Further, according to Judge Mott, they don't have any claim whatever on Microsoft because they're not MS customers -- the OEMs are.

        Standing. You don't have it.

        [i]because of a faulty system.[/i]

        The system works as intended. Just because you're a pirate and don't like being caught doesn't mean MS is wrong.

        You say you're not a pirate? Tell it to the judge.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • THANKS!

          For helping Micro$oft police the world and rid it of us terrible criminals.
          Might I suggest that you make a trip to your local Police station and volunteer to pay them a hefty fine for the last time you piloted your vehicle above the speed limit? That would improve THEIR bottom line and help their 401K's.
          Ole Man
      • They already do, and we already have...

        "Heck, in that case why not add an across the board "pirate tax" to the price of every copy?"

        We've been paying that tax all along.

        This piracy tax has been included in the price since they started facilitating piracy of their products to bring down competitors like Word Perfect and Novell.

        Their markup on software is far in excess of 90%. They sell their shrink-wrapped software to employees via the MS Company Store at ten cents on the dollar - and they still make a profit. They offer similar discounts to large purchasers. This huge markup more than compensates for any "losses" to piracy.

        (To count as a loss, there must have been the possibility of a sale. If a pirate has no intention of spending money, he won't. He will just use Linux.)

        Both WP and Novell used strict licensing schemes. MS sold directly competing software with zero copy protections. The resulting glut of "free" software diluted the market for WP and Novell, making MS the dominant player in network operating systems and office suites. The rest is history.

        Unfortunately for MS, history has a way of repeating itself. They have become the rapacious monopolists, and along comes Linux. And Open Office.

        Apparently, their lack of ability to deliver a new product that anyone wants or needs is driving them to implement these automated extortion schemes.

        SPP will likely backfire. It has the makings of the most effective marketing tool that the Unix community has ever posessed, and it is being provided free of charge by their arch nemesis.
        • There is no such thing a piracy tax

          Retailers use the same argument but it's a farce. If there were no crime at all the prices would still stay at what the market will allow. As long as there are people will to pay high retail prices for Windows operating systems the price will stay high.

          I find business will use any excuse to justify high prices when someone complains. The truth of the matter is the really justification is they like the higher profit margins. Who wouldn't? I can't fault anyone for that. If the price is too high the consumer should just not buy. There's lots of alternatives out there but laziness keeps the consumer buying. If consumers decided one day that they want Linux the market would move to Linux and all the software on Windows would be available on Linux. It's all supply and demand. Linux had little demand on the desktop so developers kind of ignore it and that's why consumers don't like it. The thing is the consumer is the person with the power. They have the money and the businesses will follow where that money goes. Right now it's going to Microsoft.
          • Dyslexic

            The People don't have the money. M$ has the money. They prove it every time they force another failure down the throats of "The People".

            The People did not get justice in the DOJ action against M$, M$ bought and bullied their way around the trouble and charged the People for the insult.

            Step out of the mirror and see what's reality, your reflection is skewed and reversed. Follow the real money and it will lead you to Redmond.
        • And in Case anyone . . .

          Questions you on this, I can back you up on the Cheap Office products. My wife and I purchased Office pro 2003 through her company (BIG co., who shall remain nameless) for $29.95.

          Yep $29.95 for a product that sits on retailers shelves for over $300 . . .

          And when talking about WP and Novell, Don't forget little Borland and a spreadsheet program called Quattro Pro. They eventually had to sell the Prog to Whoever owns WP, and is now part of WP office . . .
          • Re; And in Case anyone . . .

          • Yeah, I . . .

            remembered about a minute after I posted: I'm getting senile, I think . . .At least that's what my teenage daughter claims . . . Musta been because of all the dinosaurs around when I was her age . . .
      • Your umm, "points".

        "Why do I need to - Microsoft's bottom line ain't my problem."

        Gee, with that attitude I wonder how deeply concerned they are about your issues???
        • Got in one, Axeless

          ... Microsoft don't, nor have they ever, seen their end users as revenue streams. With a monopoly in place, they can afford to not give a rat's ass about thousands of consumers. This is common knowledge, but its nice to see it validated by a confirmed MS shill such as yourself.
          • You mom is on the shill?

            That won't stop pregnacy dude.
      • Adrian I am in total agreement with you.

        Last year my brother bought this computer for me thru Tiger Direct, a well know reputable online company. My brother set it up for me, installing the operating system along with his favorite programming he thought I might like.
        He forgot to send the Windows xp disk that came with it, because he had misplaced it. He couldn'tfind it so he ordered one directly from Microsoft and had it mailed to me. How fortunate, I thought, because it turned out the motherboard was bad. I must have re-installed from the new disk a half dozen times the next two weeks. Freeze ups, crashes, and just plain ole erratic behavior. Finally got online with Microsoft who promptly declared my disk to be a pirated copy (It came directly from them). I was shocked. Oh they tried and tried to sell me another product key, but I wouldn't (couldn't) bite. Finally gave up and had the motherboard replaced. It turned out defective.
        Ten days after this was repaired, I was back online and had to manually get another product code from them. They wouldn't send me one because they said I had it installed the same disk on multiple computers.
        Finally, after faxing them a copy of the purchase reciept, they were convinced, that I only had one computer when I also faxed them a copy of the repair bill and an offer that if they paid my repair bill, I'll pay their extortion price for the new product key. Once they GAVE me the new product key and the computer accepted it, I haven't had the kind of problems the bad motherboard gave me.
        I understand their right to make sure the operating disk is genuine, but must advise them, that, most people who ended up with a REAL pirated disk, didn't pirate it themselves. When there is a trail of paperwork showing where the pirated disk came from, my advice to Microsoft is this, Go after the pirates, not the good customer who were cheated too. That way you get your money from the thief who copied it in the first place.
      • Couldn't disagree more...

        We buy computers for the sake of convenience and productivity. This blithering littany of, "We gotta accept so many hoops, chutes and ladders, and inconveniences to protect the monopolistic monsters out there who have been destroying the creativity of those who really thought and worked hard to produce software we could actually use" is criminal.

        Why be an apologist? M$ has sucked the life-blood out of world business for decades. It is built on strong-arm tactics and prevarication. With this kind of logic, I'd bet you'd be on the side of Alphoso Capone because somebody was cutting into his justified profits when they produced their own elderberry wine for their own family feasts.

        So if Al Capone would just apologize and give back some few bucks to people were inconvenienced by his machine gun goons, the rest of us should sit back and feel proud that we are protecting his interests?

    • What's in it for you?

      Why should you, or I, or anyone who doesn't own MS stock care if Windows gets pirated? What difference will it make in your life if such piracy is eliminated?

      You're being inconvenienced here, what are you getting in return for putting up with these hassles? Do you really ever expect to see a price break from MS is piracy is stopped or do you think they'll keep on charging the maximum amount the market will pay? Keep in mind that XP introduced WPA, allegedly to cut down on piracy, and allegedly a huge success, yet the price never dropped to reflect the alleged increased sales MS must have experienced by stopping pirates.

      And now Vista, which should be even harder to pirate, costs even more. When sales increase and costs decrease, why should prices go up? Shouldn't MS share some of this newfound bounty with the consumer, since the consumer is the one being inconvenienced?
      tic swayback
      • But they've got 50,000 mouths to feed...

        In the last five years, MS added 30,000 bodies and few new revenue streams to pay for that expansion.

        You should feel honored to be able to help create a robust new economy. (In Bangalore, India)

        It will be interesting to observe the outcome of Microsoft's unique experiment in mediocrity aggregation theory.
        • If I'm reading . . .

          the market right, Vista may end up being a bigger bust than ME. And that WILL seriously injure the company . . .But the jury is still out on whether or not the silly thing will sell . . .