An idea for piracy protection

I wonder if this would be feasible? Offer your media – mp3s, computer games, whatever – for download for a reasonable price, with no intrusive DRM. Now, you know there are going to be pirate editions, although since many people are honest, if you make it easy for them to buy your product honestly, there will probably be less piracy than for DRM-loaded shit like Steam. (Granted, it’s hard to compete with free, but it’s even harder when the free (cracked) product is actually superior.) However, let each download have a small patch of code that forms a unique watermark, a serial number if you like. Then, when pirate editions show up, find who bought that particular serial number, and sue them. Pinpoint-targeted lawsuits!

Of course, such a watermark would be quite trivial to remove for anyone with a hex editor, and there’s no use trying to check for its presence, that just gets you back into the arms race with crackers that DRM has already lost. But most pirates aren’t very sophisticated. This ought to let you catch maybe 75% of the pirates, the ones who just lend their friends discs to copy without, perhaps, realising that they are stealing. (Certainly, when I was twelve (and had no money), the thought that I was stealing someone’s hard work never occurred to me. Possibly today’s youth are better educated.) Once you know who’s responsible, you don’t even need a million-dollar lawsuit; a stern letter might be sufficient in a lot of cases. Getting caught is quite scary!

This wouldn’t catch the real pirate demographic, to be sure: People who are committed thieves, who have some sort of ‘ideological’ objection to paying for software (robber barons were the first capitalists… and property is theft, except for my property) and crackers who remove DRM for the challenge of it. (Although just removing a watermark isn’t much of a challenge, to be sure. Maybe they wouldn’t bother.) But you could probably sharply reduce the magnitude of the problem, and get a lot of people into the habit of thinking pirating == theft.

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1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Random thoughts

One response to “An idea for piracy protection

  1. Adam

    First off, yes, I realize this is 1.5 years old.

    Most piracy, these days (at least from my perspective), is fairly sophisticated. It’s groups like Razor 1911 and RELOADED, able to break complex systems like Ubisoft’s always-on shitstain, in a matter of months. Something like this, in a high-profile release, wouldn’t net more than 15-20% of the cases. Going after the “12 year olds sharing CDs” would be inefficient, cruel, bad PR, and wouldn’t deter the majority of pirates.

    As a side note, I disagree with your assessment of Steam, at least as a content distribution platform. I personally couldn’t love it any more. I haven’t had any problems with Steam’s DRM in years (save one I’m having currently, but that’s related to an individual game, and it’s own bugs, not the steam platform itself).

    As another side note, actually embedding the watermark in the file itself is impractical for anything distributed on physical media, as far as I understand the manufacturing pipeline at a packaging plant. It’d “sorta” work in online distribution, though it’d probably be a real pain to really get it “embedded” deep in the software, and not just appended.

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