Why history needs software piracy

A friend set me this great link from PCworld.  Its a great read, as it outlays the major problem with an electronic culture.  It is all too easily destroyed with our ever shifting media, machines, and laws.

The problem is that as the years go by, the only copies of things that will be left, will be the pirated copies, as they have already removed the copy protection and allowed the original artifact to be transfer ed to newer and more usable media.  And anything from floppy disks, EEPROM cartridges, paper tape, CD-RW’s all will not last forever.  And even media that should have a 100 year life span, tends not to because of the availability of working drives, much like LaserDisc, CD-ROM and even our precious hard disks with the ever evolving interfaces, much like the end of MFM, RLL, ESDI etc.

Now I know what you are about to say, but CD-ROM’s still are around, sure but how many machines like the Sega-CD are still functioning?  And those early drives are known to have MANY mechanical faults, let alone other issues that come about from constant wear/tear.  Oh sure emulation is great, but how do you get the media into the emulator? No doubt for the majority a pirate was involved (MAME anyone?).

And it goes beyond computer games, and other computer oriented things of the time, but into things like music, & movies as tapes will start to die out with an approximate 30 year lifespan with magnetic media.  That would mean that the original 1977 release of Star Wars could be lost forever because of not only Lucas Art’s work to remove the original work from the market, but also the inability to watch/transfer it because of brittle film (media decay) and the lack of a good 35mm projector (old hardware scarcity)..

There is little doubt in my mind, that 100+ years from now the only collection of late 20th century media will come from someone who wound up hoarding pirated copies en masse.

In the day of the $50 1TB disk drive, you’d think it’d be trivial to make a copy of everything but as always the lawyers do their best to make it impossible… I wonder how many of them are into antiques, and could appreciate a world that when the manufacturer failed, all copies, all variations, and all records of it were obliterated…..

As convenient as the ‘cloud’ phenomena is, just like the rise & fall of the mainframe, it’ll come back to people wanting a real working version at home that some nebulous corporation or government cannot take away from them.

8 thoughts on “Why history needs software piracy

  1. It’s a great read. I wonder how long it will take the powers to be to realize that the current state of affairs is so stupid and created to serve such short-sighted interests.

    An argument could be made that the current DRM, cloud, etc. technologies abuse the idea of copyright. Rather than releasing the content into the public domain after the copyright expires, there will be simply nothing left by the copyright expires. The copyright holder thus gets everything, the public nothing. But if that’s the case, why should the public grant copyright to greedy bastards who have no intention of ever giving anything back?

    • I think what is sad is that MVS 3.8 for the IBM 370 is free, and open so mainframe enthusiasts at least have something, while DOS & OS/2 won’t seemingly be released because of intertwined contracts, nor because there is no real set expiration of the product..

      Not to mention just trying to go to Microsoft or IBM for even thinking about buying say OS/2 1.21 if you wanted something that today would qualify for an embedded OS… Even OS/2 2.0 fits in some modern tight spaces…

      Not to mention nobody ever seems to think about all the old data sitting in old files that will not open in newer programs which don’t install on modern OSes…

      I’ve run into it in work with having to go through documentation stored in Word 2 format, so yeah you can see all the hoops I had to go through to get it into something modern word can read… Heck relying on the manufacturer to support 20+ year old formats seems to be somewhat unrealistic, after all they want to move upward and onward with their new products not dragging around ancient stuff (but thankfully old ASCII stuff is a good LCD).

      I imagine it’ll become a bigger deal as the years go on, and various writers old machines will eventually want to be restored to read the old documents to be shared with everyone… I know Arthur C Clarke had written a great deal of stuff on various old machines that will no doubt be lost as like his biography won’t be published for some 90+ years from now and trying to read any of his works that are stored electronically will be impossible…

      And I’m sure there will be plenty of other examples (Douglas Adams works, no doubt on those 400kb Macintosh floppy disks…) etc etc…

      Even “small” stuff like family videos on old non BetaMax/VHS tapes… it sucks as media shifts leaving stuff behind, but worse when the vendor tries to make it impossible to copy stuff.

  2. Excellent read. Very true.
    I say YES to the massive digital library concept. Yes, publish some sort of DRM protection for the general public, fine, but also publish the same program sans-DRM for the library, so it could be replicated and preserved over time.

    God knows that if there had been such a thing nowadays, I would have not wasted so much time dumpster diving…

    • Digital dumpster diving for the future! Its a shame that so many things will be saved in such a strange manner… It sure would be nice to get access to every version of everything ever made but… that’ll never happen…

      I guess another thing like falling out like old book copyright is that you could run all kinds of software for free, but at least we have the BSD/FSF stuff out there. Which is better than nothing but can’t do anything for people with binary data in old formats, or massively complicated systems like any Oracle solution.

  3. It’s good thing someone is at least talking about digital preservation. But, I don’t see anyone from the coorporate world even thinks about it. Imagine trying to find some exotic piece of software for Windows 3.1. For example, commercial OCR package from 1991. Or some commercial DTP app. Those software speciments are lost forever. Even older versions of open source software “disappears” with time. Try downloading some ancient GNU software. For example, some libraries that were later incorporated to glibc 2.x. I guess It already happened. But, drm and cloud will likely just make things worse.

    What about Internet Archive? I heard they successfully lobbied for an exception to copyright law for the preservation purpose. Unfortunately you can’t know what they have in the archive. It’s not public atm. But they have very interesting archive of shareware CD’s, even if Textfiles.org archive seems to be bigger.

    Btw, haven’t checked your site for some time. I rarely get time to play with oldies. 🙂

    • Yeah it is a shame such old things are being lost, esp ‘free software’ where a lot of us had a tendency to wipe old versions for new with little regard..

      Another interesting observation is that plenty of old 3 1/2″ disks dont read anymore…. People holding onto the past are going to be shocked that their magnetic stashes are worthless… 🙁

    • Yeah it’s amazing that such a ‘pivotal’ piece of software was not only ‘lost’ but the author lost it as well….

      And that is only one example because of a game, who knows how much other stuff is forever lost.

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