AS THE ARGUMENTS surrounding software piracy rage on and on, a new act has come into force which will deter serious, organised pirates from operating, even if it cannot be used to gobble up all the amateur pirates in towns the length and breadth of the country.
The Copyright - Computer Software - Amendment Bill, passed in July, is supported by an array of people in the trade who really mean business. Members of the Guild of Software Houses - GOSH - and the Federation Against Software Theft - FAST have supported the bill from its conception as a private members' bill, and helped to push it through parliament.
The bill ensures that computer software is covered by the 1956 Copyright Act, which means that the plaintiff will not incur any legal costs, thus making action possible where it might not have been before. Anyone selling, exhibiting or possessing pirated software will face a fine of up to £2,000 for each offence, or prison for up to two months. Making, distributing or importing such material will carry an unlimited fine, or up to two years in prison, or both.
The bill received royal assent on July 16. Nick Alexander of Virgin, who is also director of FAST, says he is very relieved to see that Robert Hay, a retired chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, has taken on the job of enforcement co-ordinator for FAST. Bob Hay's working history covers the Grunwick dispute, the Iranian siege and day-to-day duty in Southall, all of which is enough to make most people quake at the knees.
Software theft costs the industry over £150 million each year in lost sales. Hay's presence may prove reassuring, especially since the industry is going through exactly the same problems as the music industry has done, according to Alexander.
Hay is keen to point out that piracy should be seen in the same light as theft. "The Americans call piracy 'softlifting' and as far as I'm concerned, the public should take the same view of someone who lifts £500 of software as they would of someone who took £500 of goods from a shopkeeper," he says.
Hay emphasises how dishonest he thinks the practice is, and how it does others out of an income. "Piracy inhibits investments and innovation and, ultimately, it will cost jobs which are there in an expanding industry. The public will suffer the effects, because loss of choice will result. Piracy means that companies don't get a return on their investment."
Hay's job will be to enforce the new law via FAST. "Unlike the music or video industries, the problems of the micro games industry are quite different," he says. "When we receive information that a company's software is being pirated at particular premises, we can get in touch with the appropriate authorities who will take the matter further."
Hay will keep an eye on incidents of piracy, how and when those occur, and advise member companies of FAST on the amendment. He will also work on making the counterfeiting of products more difficult.
So, what is piracy? Mark Tilsen, formerly production manager for Quicksilva, says there are three kinds: copying by the user so he can pass the stuff on to his mates, encouragement to copy by a retailer by way of renting out or lending software, and counterfeiting.
The latter is the kind used in organised crime whereby people make games which appear to be original copies but aren't. Many of those sell at markets and from street traders and often those vendors do not realise the seriousness of what they are doing, according to the. Trading Standards Authority - TSA - and the Advertising Standards Authority - ASA.
Tilsen estimates that for every copy bought, seven copies are made by users for their friends. On the subject of renting or lending out software, Jeff Brown, managing director of US Gold, shares Tilsen's opinion: "This is a pure incentive to copy."
US Gold produced a court order in January this year, ordering a number of public libraries to return US Gold software at once, after the company found out that their games had been lent out in the same way as books.
DEC's senior commercial lawyer, Roger Tuckett, confirms that you are allowed to make a backup copy of something if it has been negotiated with the manufacturer first. He points out that distribution of copied software is the most likely thing to get you into trouble.
Stories of piracy are legend. Philip Morris, managing director of English Software, phoned in response to a small ad in a magazine, only to be offered pirated copies of his own software. Much to his horror, he was asked to make out a cheque to the pirate's mother in payment.
Tim Langdell, managing director of The Edge and executive member of GOSH, quite often receives faulty tapes back from software shops, which are not originals.
Other horror stories abound, such as that of one software house employee who went to a computer club meeting to find all the members busy copying his software. And then there was the case of a certain London Borough which ordered only one program from a software house, rather than several.
Software houses have been busy chasing pirates from other shores, too, with most problems occurring in Europe, the far cast and Australia. US Gold have had problems in Germany, Spain and Italy while the Quicksilva had their worst problems with Portugal. At one point, says Rod Cousens, formerly of Quicksilva, 23 companies there were copying his games and there was nothing he could do about it.
One particularly busy outfit in Germany operates as an international computer club and copies software from the US before sending it on and distributing it at reduced prices to members in the UK and Europe.
Generally speaking though, laws abroad are much clearer on software copyright and counterfeiting and hopefully the new law will bring Britain in line with other countries in this way.
Last summer, heads rolled when various software company personnel, including Richard Turner of Artic, Roger Gammon of Anirog and Jeff Brown of US Gold, staged dawn raids on four private homes along with police and solicitors - imagine waking up to find that lot on your doorstep! Many other software houses including Mirrorsoft, A 'n' F, Software Projects and Virgin gave their support to the raids.
Other steps taken by software houses to protect their goodies have been less dramatic and involve everything from colour coding of tapes to turbo-loading.
In the case of a fast or turbo loading tape, copying is made difficult because the game is loaded at such a fast rate that the signals are scrambled, although that doesn't affect the original game when it is played.
Hewson Consultants' game Avalon has a security sheet printed in 'fugitive ink' so that it will not photocopy, and the company also uses, a turbo load system. There are a number of other methods which Andrew Hewson, managing director, will not go into. "We've constructed our defence in a number of ways," he says.
Software Projects has used a colour coding system, so that when you have loaded a program, you have to type in a set of colours in a particular sequence. Those are given with the documentation.
|"Ninety percent of software on the market isn't worth the asking price" - Nick, pirate|
Michael Fitzgerald, managing director of A 'n' F, has introduced holographic labels which make copying difficult, and has settled a few piracy situations out of court this year.
"I see the schoolkid syndrome as something we have to live with," he says. Fitzgerald's attitude is that if someone sees your game in the first place and they like it, they are more likely to buy your next one.
Jim Lamont, managing director of JLC Data in Barnsley, developed a software protection device last year, which was promptly confiscated by the Ministry of Defence. It was subsequently refused a patent.
Although the incident was shrouded in mystery, the MoD has shed some light on the affair. A spokeswoman says, "We can withdraw a product for a year if we think it could be useful to us, and withhold the patent on it. The device concerned stopped you copying anything which had been put onto magnetic media of any kind. The other thing the MoD looks at is whether a device is listed as 'sensitive' or could be useful to Warsaw Pact countries if exported.
"A prohibition order was put on the patent in early 1984, but has since been lifted," she says, "as the device wasn't found to be as sensitive as originally thought."
The prohibition order was lifted by the Patent Office after a question was raised on the matter in Parliament in April. Up in Barnsley, however, Lamont says he had been told not to talk about it.
The argument concerning the small advertisements offering pirated copies in the backs of magazines is likely to continue, although Rod Cousens, now a consultant for Incentive Software, speaks for many when he says: "Anything which gives more protection is helpful and I think it will place more pressure on magazines to scrutinise their adverts."
However, Charles Hendry, information communications adviser of FAST, confirms that it is not illegal to advertise something which is illegal it is only illegal to use the service. In other words, anyone advertising devices which enable the copying of software is not breaking the law.
At the same time as the bill went through, computer and hi-fi company Amstrad ran into trouble with their twin deck cassette system, and two other companies, Mirage Computers and the Micro Centre, brought out copying devices.
How do the companies feel about the implications of the new law? Bob Hitchcock, director of Micro Centre which makes Interface 3 - a combined hardware/software package for tape and microdrive copying says the piracy outcry is "a load of rubbish.
"It doesn't affect sales in any way," he says. "We've been selling products of this kind for two years and, if anything, it's increased software sales. It's all a fuss about nothing. Look at the record industry - they sell more records now than they ever have done.
"Interface 3 doesn't encourage piracy. The piracy thing should be aimed at people who copy the inlay cards, and so on, too. After all, when people hear a record, they go out and buy it - hearing it encourages people to buy."
A similar device to Interface 3 is the Microdriver, brought out by Mirage. That serves the same function but also does tape to tape copying too. Both devices sell for £39.95.
Over at Mirage, the attitude to piracy is quite different. Director Gerry Bassingthwaighte says: "Our unit copies the program and saves it in encoded form so that unless you have a microdriver plugged into your Spectrum, you can't reload the program. That means that if someone bought our device for piracy, he is wasting his time. He could make as many copies as he wanted, but if the people he sold them to don't have our device, they can't use the programs. You can do tape to tape copying on our device too, but in the same way, it can only be loaded using a Microdriver."
He says he understood why Amstrad had got into trouble over their device. "Their adverts encouraged people to rip off music and software. In all our promotions, we stress that it's for backups and we've taken lengths to ensure it can't be used for piracy. The problem is, lots of software houses don't let you make backup copies ..."
Over to Amstrad, who are understandably sensitive on the matter. Marketing manager Malcolm Miller says "The British Phonographic Industry - BPI - took exception to the way Amstrad was advertising a high speed dubbing power system, which allows you to do tape to tape copying at twice the normal speed, and they wrote to our retailers about this."
Amstrad then hauled the BPI off to court. "We wanted to declare that what we were doing was lawful," says Miller. "We asked the courts for a declaration on what they thought was lawful, but the High Court said they couldn't declare that what we were doing was lawful. So Amstrad will appeal, and will be heard this autumn, in the Court of Appeal.
"We don't condone any infringement of copyright," he adds. "Remember that we ourselves produce copyrighted material, so it wouldn't make sense."
Amstrad are continuing to sell the systems, which range from £159 to £199. "We haven't been placed under pressure to withdraw them from sale and we haven't been banned from doing anything," says Miller.
"It's all very well to talk about piracy. We regard our tape copier in much the same way as selling knives which kill people, cars which break the speed limit, videos which record TV and stereo units which record LPs."
So, prohibition order aside, why have software houses failed so miserably in their attempts to deter pirates? The answer may be summed up in the words of one software house chief who said glumly: "The kids break into security devices as fast as they're invented."
Three schoolboys who pirate their games with the same regularity as most of us drink coffee gave us their views.
David, 18, believes piracy is justified because prices are too high. "I've never bought a piece of software in my life," he gushes. 'I never have, or will, buy software."
How does he do it? "I have a very expensive hi-fi deck which lets me do an excellent back-to-back copy. It's called high-speed dubbing. If I want discs copied, I use a disc-copying utility sold by a reputable company. Practically everyone I know pirates stuff.
On the new law, David feels it will be totally ineffective when it comes to individuals, but that companies should be caught. "Jobs are only lost in the industry through large-scale pirating operations. I think software houses themselves do a lot of pirating - they break into the code for a routine which they'll find useful for their own programs. They will deny this, but it's an absolute fact."
James, also 18, says: "Tapes with turboloads are difficult to copy, so you have to break into those programs using certain techniques. You can put the game into memory, or you can break into it. You can also transfer your games onto disc, but that takes time."
Why does he do it? "By the time you've forked out money for disc drives and the micro itself, there's no cash left. It's not done to own a micro and not pirate." Summing up, James feels that if a game costs over £1.99 he may as well pirate it.
Nick, 16, believes that everything boils down to how good a game is. He reckons that if it is really good, people will pay for it, but if it is only average, they will copy it. "Ninety per cent of software on the market isn't worth the asking price," he says. "Anyway, I reckon most of the software houses pirate each other's stuff on the quiet."
On passwords, he says: "They don't always keep people out. If you write a program which asks for a password, the program must know that password. So if you look at the program carefully, you'll find it."