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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Just say no to software that calls for online product activation, kids! I feel bad for any musician who got stuck in the same situation as the author.

Digital Sound Planet goes out of business, leaving customers without unlock keys
  • Last Edit: 02 July, 2012, 07:01:28 PM by Sanchez Ploplopski

  • uart
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #1
Yeah, I haven't had this issue with any music related software, but many years ago I did get stung with some full priced software that I couldn't use (for long) and have had a definite aversion to "activation ware" ever since.

This was was back in the days of DOS believe it or not. The software was the very first title that I ever bought on CD (that new fangle technology) instead of floppy.  As with your case, I had no idea that it needed activation when I bought it, but when I got it home and tried to install it the installer gave me a code and a phone number to ring before I could continue. I was like WTF because I'd never seen anything like it before. It was actually a human operator that took my call, entered my registration details (mandatory) and then gave me a response code to generated one I'd given. I thought it was all very intrusive and was pretty pissed off to tell the truth.

Fast forward 12 months and I had to re-install everything after a HDD crash, what to you reckon, that phone number was no longer connected and I was locked out of the software I'd payed full price for. Grrrrr!

Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #2
Just say no to software that calls for online product activation, kids!

No kidding, I've been railing against such forms of copy protection for many years. This article is from 1999:

Copy Protection: The Audio Industry's Dirty Little Secret

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method

  • Dynamic
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #3
Good article, Ethan. It shows that in this case the OP might feel forced to use a cracked 'warez' version if one exists, which might or might not be virus-free, after being mis-sold the original legitimate product by a now-defunct company or to lose all that work. Neither option feels good.
Dynamic – the artist formerly known as DickD

  • 2Bdecided
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #4
You could argue that such product activation is fine - the failure is that the company should put the software (or at least the activation procedure) into Escrow or similar, so that in the event of the company's demise, a third party can pick it up and maintain the service, or users can access it directly and freely.

It's not as if a company going out of business is a totally unexpected event that's not happened during the last century.


In the commercial world, it's quite common for company B to buy limited access to software from company A (e.g. a specific binary for a specific OS), but require company A to put the source code in Escrow for release to company B in the event that company A goes out of business. It's the only way some smaller companies can sell bespoke software.


I don't expect normal consumers to get into this kind of thing - but maybe some kind of industry quality scheme/mark for software, part of which involves this, would be a good thing.

If my livelihood rested on income from software I had written, I'd want to protect it in every way possible. Of course everything of value will get hacked, and it's a constant game of cat and mouse - but raising the bar to make piracy harder means more paying customers (as long as you're not doing it in a way to drive them away!). The idea that you'll make more money by trusting people to be honest, or giving the software away and asking for donations, is wrong IME.

Cheers,
David.

  • skamp
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #5
raising the bar to make piracy harder means more paying customers


Not really. Raising the bar means maybe more time before your software gets hacked. All it takes is one guy to hack your software, for everyone else to be able to pirate it. Blu-ray raised the bar, but I'm pretty sure it gets pirated now just as much as DVD-Video did.
See my profile for measurements, tools and recommendations.

  • 2Bdecided
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #6
raising the bar to make piracy harder means more paying customers


Not really. Raising the bar means maybe more time before your software gets hacked.
So anyone who wants to use it during that time has to buy it - so that's more paying customers - result!
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All it takes is one guy to hack your software, for everyone else to be able to pirate it.
True. Though it's rarely so black-and-white in practice. Is the pirate version safe to acquire and/or use? Is it the latest version compatible with my HW/OS? Is there functionality missing? Is it buggy? Is there wanted functionality that requires communication with the original software author's website?

Anyway, all it takes is one guy to break the lock on my house and all my possessions are gone. But I still have a lock on my house.

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Blu-ray raised the bar, but I'm pretty sure it gets pirated now just as much as DVD-Video did.
Probably. But the protection did its job for some time, and this is protection that's linked to a format and specific hardware. cat-and-mouse is harder to play with hardware (though BluRay tries to offer various features to do this). You've got far greater flexibility when protecting software.


People assume everything will get hacked. Maybe. But some things are superseded before they're hacked, which is more than good enough.

Cheers,
David.

  • LithosZA
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #7
Another (unrelated to audio) example is Diablo 3. When you play the single player game most of the actions only happen on the server.
If Blizzard does not exist anymore in the far future then Diablo 3 will not be playable anymore. Cracks wont help and only server emulators would make the game playable.
The only way to make the game playable again would be to release the server software to the people who bought the game. I doubt that Blizzard would do this.

  • cliveb
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #8
If my livelihood rested on income from software I had written, I'd want to protect it in every way possible. Of course everything of value will get hacked, and it's a constant game of cat and mouse - but raising the bar to make piracy harder means more paying customers (as long as you're not doing it in a way to drive them away!). The idea that you'll make more money by trusting people to be honest, or giving the software away and asking for donations, is wrong IME.

My livelihood doesn't (and never has) relied on the software I sell (it's strictly a side-project) so perhaps my take on this is not representative.

I started out assuming that unless I protected my software I'd make no sales at all. And so it does require an unlock key. But it wasn't long before 100% accurate pirate key generators started appearing. I considered changing the keygen algorithm, but I reasoned that the new algorithm would get cracked pretty quickly anyway. So I decided it wasn't worth the bother. If anyone wants to unlock my software without paying, they can do it easily.

But here's the point: unless my memory is failing me, the peak rate of sales came after all those pirate key generators appeared. So the premise that the existence of hacked versions will decrease income seems false in my own case. Perhaps I'm lucky and the typical user for the type of software I was offering is just honest. Or perhaps it was cheap enough that people felt happy to pay.

As a result of this, I did consider converting it to genuine shareware - where the program doesn't need unlocking and users are free to send a donation if they wish. Apart from anything else, it would free me from the task of maintaining a key generation system that has to be integrated with PayPal and ShareIt. Quite frankly the only reason I did not do this was that it would be a betrayal of the existing users who had already paid. (I know if I bought some software only to find a short while later that payment was optional, I might feel a bit miffed).

  • uart
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #9
But here's the point: unless my memory is failing me, the peak rate of sales came after all those pirate key generators appeared. So the premise that the existence of hacked versions will decrease income seems false in my own case. Perhaps I'm lucky and the typical user for the type of software I was offering is just honest. Or perhaps it was cheap enough that people felt happy to pay.

That certainly is surprising to me Clive. Perhaps the appearance of keygens resulted your software getting lots of "hits" on warez sites/search_engines, and thus getting a much wider audience. Maybe it was just a relatively small percent, but of a much larger group, that resulted in your increased sales?  I guess it could be some percent (perhaps small) of the "warez crowd" that really are happy to pay, but only after they're used the software and decided that it genuinely was useful to them.
  • Last Edit: 05 July, 2012, 11:00:47 AM by uart

  • DonP
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #10
Not really. Raising the bar means maybe more time before your software gets hacked. All it takes is one guy to hack your software, for everyone else to be able to pirate it. Blu-ray raised the bar, but I'm pretty sure it gets pirated now just as much as DVD-Video did.


At this point, I'd say "not yet,"  if only because most computers still don't come with blue ray drives.  For that matter, most people I know still don't have high def TV's but get the old standard signal from their cable or sat company. 



  • dhromed
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #11
raising the bar to make piracy harder means more paying customers (as long as you're not doing it in a way to drive them away!). The idea that you'll make more money by trusting people to be honest, or giving the software away and asking for donations, is wrong IME.


You don't make more money by raising the bar for piracy.

You make money by lowering the bar to buying.

eg. iTunes, Steam, Bandcamp, Humble Bundle.

  • 2Bdecided
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #12
You make money by lowering the bar to buying.
I've rarely found paying for software on-line to be a challenge. (Except some of it costs more than I want to pay, and sometimes more than I can pay).


I think software authors should be free to use activation etc if they wish. But some form of protection for consumers could be put in place, to avoid the bad situations described in this thread. That's quite a realistic aim IMO. Wishing all forms of restriction away is not (again, IMO).

Cheers,
David.
  • Last Edit: 05 July, 2012, 12:39:21 PM by 2Bdecided

Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #13
the failure is that the company should put the software (or at least the activation procedure) into Escrow or similar, so that in the event of the company's demise, a third party can pick it up and maintain the service, or users can access it directly and freely.

Yes!

--Ethan
I believe in Truth, Justice, and the Scientific Method

  • AshenTech
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Why product activation is bad idea: Quartz Audio
Reply #14
2Bdecided: drm and activation do not lead to more sales, they actually have been shown to drive people to other products and warez.

"pirates" have in many studies been shown to buy more music, videos and software then those who claim to no use p2p.

I know a good number of small app developers who gained alot of sales after their stuff showed up on warez/p2p sites, one of them went postal when he saw his app on tpb, tried to get it taken down, threatened them, even tried to get a lawyer to sue them(not kidding) the really funny part......about 2 months later he realised sales for his app had jumped over 500% and he was getting donations on some little freeware tools he had......he contacted some of the people and they admitted they found the app on p2p and liked it so they bought it....

funny enough, hes decided next major update he will go the true shareware rout and possibly just offer donation option and pay plugins/addons for stuff people request.

i mention this because many apps are heavily shared on p2p but still make a good amount of money for their creators.

adobe try and stop copyright infringement of their products by various means, but they never look at why home users and students would "pirate" it rather then buy.......PRICE....i can tell you, most students i know cant afford to buy adobes full creative suit.....but they need it for class, and the student versions, funny enough at times are missing features the classes require..(wtf)

I can understand the high price for commercial use, but for personal use......nobody i know is gonna fork out that kinda money....(and dont get me started on how gimp really isnt a direct alternative to ps.....gimps good for some stuff but its not ps....)

bah, my point is, DRM and Activation do not help sales, they help companies selling DRM and Activation solutions.....I once worked for a game devlopment company in what would now be called the IT dept......they had reps from DRM companies in and out of there trying to sell them drm schemes at least 2x a week.....

the thing was the tech support dept didnt want to use drm again because it lead to a massive number of support requests for various reasons.....like secrom thinking windvd is "Drive emulation software"

the developers didnt want drm because it lead to bugs they had to fix.

management only bought into drm because of the false claims by drm companies that it would stop or slow "piracy".......and even when that turned out to not be true, they kept going.....because the reps insisted it was working and...why would they lie....

in the end, drm sucks, it just pisses off your customers/potential customers.....I have no problem with online games needing accounts to go online, or apps that use the net needing you to create an acct for their online functions to work.....but i shouldnt have to rely on a company staying in business to activate my software and i shouldnt have to crack software i paid for.

some examples of games I own but had to crack due to drm related issues.

Spore
Bioshock
call of juarez


i could list others, but, i own many games that due to drm issues(like drm servers being offline or activation limits) I have ended up cracking......

I shouldnt have to do that......and its a big part of why me, myself, wont buy some companies products.....