Software Protection

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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When a product consists primarily of digital or electronic data, it can be subject to a level of theft and appropriation not possible with material goods. Digital media products, such as CDs, DVDs, and especially computer software, are essential composed of information. The intangibility of information makes the theft of digital data much easier than conventional stealing in terms of feasibility, and for some individuals, in terms of personal ethics. Many copyright violators don't even consider it wrong to copy a program from a friend or co-worker, despite the fact that it is legally defined as a serious type of theft.

Prior to the advent of home computers, the illegal duplication of electronic content was a strictly analog endeavor. Video and audio tape, both analog mediums, were the only means available for the public to replicate copyrighted electronic data. Analog duplication does not produce an equivalent copy, and the result is usually of inferior quality. In the late 1970s, computer software piracy emerged as a medium for digital duplication. This introduced the idea that electronic content be could be perfectly replicated, without the quality loss of analog duplication. Computer piracy became a popular way for users to collect and share software and games by copying programs onto floppy discs. The widespread reproduction and distribution of copyrighted software led to the implementation of technical control measures in the 1980s.

Software Protection Measures

Technical control measures are features built into electronic content, intended to prevent unauthorized duplication of the work. This is done by imposing restrictions on how digital work can be accessed and utilized by the copyright holder. As the first medium for home-based digital duplication, computer software has long been equipped with some of the security measures that are only now being applied to other media, such as DVD and CD technology. While technical control measures were employed in the '70s as an extension of basic copyright law, sophisticated software piracy options have necessitated advanced measures, capable of securing programs against CD-R/RW duplication and Internet peer-to-peer file sharing.

DRM, known alternately as Digital Rights Management and Digital Restrictions Management, refers to methods for protecting products composed of electronic content against illegal access or replication. The prominence and affordability of CD-R and DVD-R technology makes computer software a popular target of unauthorized replication and distribution. As a result, new DRM applications are always being developed in order to stay one step ahead of the cyber-thieves.

A common DRM measure is the requirement of a password in order to enable a program's full functionality. The password can only be attained after the software is registered with the manufacturer. When this is done online, the registration process usually entails the collection of system specific information, which is hashed to the software, enabling its use only on the registered computer. However, these types of measures are disputed by legitimate software owners, who claim they also limit legal use.

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