What Would Make Copy Protection Palatable?The easy answer: a protocol that makes sure people pay for the software they use, but doesn’t inconvenience legitimate users.

Unfortunately, no current copy protection system has attained either goal. Just about anything can be cracked eventually, and sometimes, the people who pay for their software have to deal with more problems than the people who don’t.

There are some success stories. I’ve been told that Apple was able to lower the price on the “Logic Pro with everything bundle” because Emagic’s dongle really did cut piracy to practically nothing (a telling sign that stopping piracy might very well lower prices for everyone). And companies like Propellerheads, Cakewalk, and Sony’s Madison Media Software division have been able to not just survive, but thrive, using minimal copy protection.

But then there are the horror stories, all of which have happened to me: accidentally using an older dongle driver that crashed my computer so badly it had to be repaired with the help of a tech, a pre-USB dongle that fried my motherboard (“Well, it can happen, but it’s rare,” said the company), going to a session thousands of miles from home and encountering an “insert CD for verification” message, having software that could never be re-installed because the company went out of business, and doing a hard drive reformat because the documentation for a certain type of copy protection was inaccurate — then taking hours to re-install legitimate, protected software after the re-format.

Stealing software is wrong, and a major problem. Intellectual property deserves the full protection of the law. But all companies could make copy protection more palatable by publishing accurate, crystal-clear documentation on their copy protection protocol, and providing “insurance” so that if a dongle breaks, the user doesn’t have to break out in a cold sweat. And, there should be a repository for non-copy-protected versions of software (maintained by IMSTA, perhaps) so that if a company goes out of business and the assets of the company aren’t sold after a year, registered owners can download the software for free. And a uniform method of copy protection instead of the plethora of protocols would really help, too.

Manufacturers deserve a break, no question about it . . . but so do honest customers.