It’s frustrating to have someone else steal your work. That’s why piracy is one of the biggest scourges of entertainment today. Yet bootlegs and copyright infringement still happen, and sometimes undetectably. So, if the person pirating is outside your legal reach, how do you keep them from enjoying your work for free?
Create anti-piracy measures, of course.
Tainting the Well
Cher briefly released songs on LimeWire that played very quietly, in an effort to get the listener to jack up their volume. After a little bit, she’d shout at you to stop stealing at the normal volume band – which was now at max volume. This didn’t last very long, because downloads had names on the site, but there was no limit to what artists would do to keep their intellectual property in their own hands. Ironically, the worst LimeWire users themselves were more likely to protect property than the artists! Trolls would put some strange things on otherwise normal tracks, and some people would rather go to iTunes than play download lottery. They tainted the well themselves.
People tend to be more embarrassed that they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar than they are about the pirating itself. Asking about the bizarre version of the song you downloaded would out you as a pirate. And music wasn’t the only industry to do this.
A whole bunch of games would give strange errors or messages to get pirates to ask about it online. Of course, the pirates are the only ones who got these messages, so creators and other fans alike knew they’d pirated the software. That was the punishment: everybody on the game’s Steam page knew you were a pirate! They then either self-exile or double down on the pirating by removing themselves from the forum to avoid the shaming.
Games have great examples of anti-piracy in action. Piracy detection used to be pretty hard – all it took was a blank disc and a PC that already had the game on it in the early days to make copies. Games would use physical wheels or artifacts on the inside of the game’s packaging to be sure you had a legit copy – if you couldn’t answer a question pre-programmed into the game, you didn’t have the original package, and you couldn’t play. Then, as computers got better and games could take up more space, programmed anti-piracy kicked into a higher gear. Anything and everything went – it was the pirate’s problem if they didn’t like it. Earthbound, a game that was already difficult, would crash at the final screen and then delete all your save data. So would Spyro, although Spyro would warn you that it thought you were playing a bootleg copy before you got to the end.
The goal was to frustrate the pirate, which would eventually prevent piracy in its own way. Some developers went to guilt, instead: Alan Wake just slaps an eyepatch with the Jolly Roger on your character to remind you that you’re playing a pirated copy and you should feel bad. So does Quantum Break.
Business Software License Checks
There are many obvious downsides to pirating something like Excel. Namely, if something goes wrong, what are you going to do? Contact the vendor? With your illegitimate copy? Good luck with that. It doesn’t help that Microsoft runs audits, too – if they detect a license or a product key not in line with what they’re expecting, they’ll know you’re pirating. If another copy of Word tries to interact with an illegitimate copy, they’ll know you’re pirating. Basically, if you’re ever connected to the internet with a cracked copy of Office software, they’ll know. There are so many free alternatives that pirating Word seems foolish.
Microsoft is doing it for more than the money, too. There’s a growing host of people online who would just love to scam some businesses into downloading malicious software, alongside illegitimate copies of Word. Assuming the business owner genuinely believes they’re getting real copies of Office, Microsoft’s good name is tainted!
Pirating early-release discs destroys faith in reviewers. However, early reviewers are also giving you a lot of free advertisement, so it wouldn’t be very smart financially to just cut them all off. Instead, what they use is CAP software, which stores a code in the file. If the file is leaked or copied, the code is present, and the studio knows exactly which reviewer to cut off. Versions of this using tones mixed into the audio of the movie and visual watermarks are also common! Everyone benefits: the studio still gets it’s promotion, the reviewer gets to review the movie, and the viewer gets some early information about what they want to watch, legitimately. The pirate is slapped with a fine and everyone moves on.