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Ask Slashdot: What Is a Reasonable Way To Deter Piracy? 687

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-to-their-house-and-verify-them-personally dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm an indie developer about to release a small ($5 — $10 range) utility for graphic designers. I'd like to employ at least a basic deterrent to pirates, but with the recent SimCity disaster, I'm wondering: what is a reasonable way to deter piracy without ruining things for legitimate users? A simple serial number? Online activation? Encrypted binaries? Please share your thoughts."
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Ask Slashdot: What Is a Reasonable Way To Deter Piracy?

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  • life-long updates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:21PM (#43228593)

    You could choose to provide life-long updates for those that buy the tool. At least that made me pay for several programs.

  • by longk (2637033) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:22PM (#43228613)

    Serial number. "Call home" only on new install to check the serial.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:22PM (#43228615)

    One side wants information to be free, the otherside wants market forcesto prevail. Eitherway you lose as the price will be $0

  • Don't even try (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leromarinvit (1462031) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:23PM (#43228627)

    Just don't. The people who want to pirate will, no matter what you do. Any DRM would only inconvenience legitimate customers. Just make it easy to buy your software for people who want to do so, and provide something worthwhile for the money (e.g. answer support questions, respond to bug reports, etc.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:23PM (#43228629)

    Whatever you do, man, make it easy for people doing reinstalls to preserve the install key. A lot of times we redo a computer for a customer and we can't put back some software because there's no way to get the key. Something like an online system where you enter your e-mail address or something to re-register could be nice in those cases, assuming the worst case that whatever stored the registration was deleted.

    Don't require online connectivity to run once registered though, that's just asking for trouble.

  • by mattventura (1408229) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:23PM (#43228631) Homepage
    You can divide people into 3 categories: those that WILL buy it, even if they could pirate it, those that might pirate it or might buy it, and those that will not use it at all if they can't pirate it. The second group of people is going to be the only ones that you might convert from pirates to customers by imposing DRM and that group might be quite small. Don't screw over the first group with overintrusive DRM.
  • Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nitehawk214 (222219) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:25PM (#43228657)

    Seriously. Don't. If your program is any good, people will pirate it. Actually even if your program is terrible people will pirate it, just because they can. And they can, no matter what steps you take. However people are vastly more likely to give money to a indie developer. Pirates can be classified people that are either compulsive/hoarder pirates and wouldn't pay for it anyhow, genuinely need your program but cannot afford it, and people that will pay for it after a "trial run" when the realize you are an indie developer and your program is reasonably priced.

  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:26PM (#43228675)

    Hear hear. You get vastly more with the carrot than an easily-circumvented stick.

  • KISS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niado (1650369) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:26PM (#43228681)
    The simpler the better. My philosophy on this is that anyone with a moderate amount of determination will pirate your software. This is unlikely to heavily impact your bottom line, and (especially from an indie standpoint) you might not be able to afford the time, energy, and money required to implement a draconian DRM method anyway. Just use serial numbers or something equally mundane and then don't worry about anything beyond that, because you literally can't prevent determined piracy.
  • by Gaygirlie (1657131) <> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:28PM (#43228703) Homepage

    You have seemingly already decided that you're going to implement DRM, so the next question you should ask yourself is: "How much am I willing to inconvenience my paying customers?" Also in similar vein is the question: "How much time am I willing to spend on a protection scheme that will be circumvented anyways?" The problem with DRM is that it doesn't stop dedicated people at all, it merely stops the "let me borrow the CD and I'll install it, too" - crowd, nothing else, and therefore it's waste of both your and your customers' resources to use much time or effort on it.

    A simple install-time-only online activation is probably the best of both worlds as long as you can ensure that your activation servers are always accessible. Anything else is just a losing game.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:29PM (#43228719) Homepage

    That's probably the easiest way to deter piracy: price it reasonably for it's job. Most people would rather get it legitimately than pirate it. Make it easy to download without going to shady download sites like CNet (I say shady because there's no way of telling where what they're hosting came from or who put it there, and I do not trust software where I can't trace it's provenance). Hosting downloads from your own domain will help, and leads into the next item: mark each copy you sell. Encode a serial number and buyer identity into each copy, making each one unique to the buyer. Make it clear when they buy that the copy's been stamped with their identity, and do the same on the initial splash screen if any and in the About dialog. This won't be seen by most people as anything particularly objectionable in itself, at the same time it'll make them skittish about just handing it out willy-nilly knowing that if someone they give it to uploads it to a torrent site or something it'll be them clearly identified as the source. It won't stop the hard-code pirates, but then very little will. It won't stop people from installing an extra copy for family. But it should be enough to convince the majority of people to tell their friends to just shell out the $15 for their own copy.

  • ! deterrent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:29PM (#43228733) Homepage

    Deterrent is the wrong goal. Give up on the folks who choose to steal it. They aren't worth your time or concern. Worry about making it both easy and encouraging for the folks who are inclined to pay you to do so.

  • by Kethinov (636034) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:31PM (#43228765) Homepage Journal

    Trying to deter piracy with DRM is a losing battle. If people don't want to pay you, they won't pay. The trick is to get them to want to pay you.

    The first step is to learn the art of asking: []

    Ask for money, don't demand it. Let them pay you whatever they think is reasonable, but communicate how much you want ($5 in this case) as a default.

    And for all those freeloaders who decide not to pay you, and there will be plenty, show them some ads to recoup the cost. Better they see your ads than piratebay's.

  • by MagPulse (316) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:34PM (#43228807)
    Along these lines, make the program available in an App Store []. This makes it easier for paying customers. It's tiring when I want to buy a program to have to do some background research on payment processors to see if a developer chose one that is trustworthy. But Apple already has my credit info, buying is easy and safe.
  • by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@gm a i l . com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:34PM (#43228819) Journal

    Whose life? ;)

    I can't see someone supporting a game for more than a year or so unless they have a revenue stream from downloadable content.

    An OS I can see security updates being a requirement for a decade.

    Some software packages dealing with finance will most likely need update and I don't expect those to be free.

    The simplest mentioned is check the serial on a new install which I won't fuss with bypassing. Let me play it without the serial with either level or time restriction for a game. Let me do enough with other programs to get an idea how they work.

    And as always, Don't Suck.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:37PM (#43228861)
    The answer is to make it easier to buy your product then it is to pirate it.

    Price it right, make sure ANYONE can download it (in other words, make sure you have a way of getting money from someone in the US and UK just as easily as you've got a way from a guy in China or India to download your game) and make it easy to find where you can buy it.

    If someone really wants to pirate your software, they will. But make sure that the pirated version isn't a superior version to what you offer.

    But above all else, you want users, its a whole lot better to be known for a game that everyone's heard of and played and 75% of the people didn't buy then it is to be the creator of a game that no one's heard of and played but the few users who did play the game bought it.
  • by geminidomino (614729) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:45PM (#43228981) Journal

    That might have been true before advertisers put themselves on the same operating level as malware.

    Might have been, but I doubt it.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:46PM (#43229011)

    Or even better, kickstart it and front load your profits. After that just live with piracy.

  • Re:Don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by neminem (561346) <neminem AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:51PM (#43229069) Homepage

    But all it takes is one determined person to put it up on the internet, and it'll spread immediately to all the other, lazier people. The only surefire way to avoid anyone pirating your software is to be so darn indie that nobody has heard of your software, and thus, nobody has heard of it to decide it would be fun to crack.

    Going with the huge numbers of other people who say: a little bit of DRM (like a one-time key check, or looking something up in the manual or something) is infinitely better than none, but a lot of DRM (like phoning home randomly all the time, or analyzing the system's memory every time anything does anything, or anything that might break for legitimate users or force them to jump through a bunch of hoops to validate) is infinitely worse, and will drive people to piracy who might otherwise have paid, while not inconveniencing the serial pirates at all, because they would've pirated it anyway.

  • by scdeimos (632778) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:54PM (#43229117)

    This, plus if you're intending to limit the number of concurrent installs for your product *also* allow for a given install to be DE-registered:

    1. provide a de-register menu/setting using the same "call home" service - people periodically upgrade or replace their machines, or
    2. using a web interface on your site to delete a registration - sometimes machines crash and can't be restored from backups.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:54PM (#43229123)
    And, it has the problem that if the activation server disappears in the future, you can't play your game anymore!
  • Obscurity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fwarren (579763) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:55PM (#43229129) Homepage

    Piracy is a tax on being popular.

    The less popular you are, the less of a tax it is.

    It costs goodwill, it cost money, and it is for the most part not effective. What is effictive is to find a way to make money even with pircacy out there.

    Read some posts at TechDirt. Find out if freeimum, or posting a comment or a product at thepiratebay or something else would work for your business.

    There was an article about a director who made $60,000 last year on a project and spent $30,000 if it trying to deter piracy. She could have doubled her money by doing nothing. That was a case study. []

  • Re:Don't even try (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:58PM (#43229177)

    I disagree with you, you should at least have a soft protection to prevent the average Joe from emailing the program to his BFF which just has to run the exe after.

    But that requires either a physical token (DVD) or activation servers, both of which instantly increase costs a lot over simple downloads and inconvenience legitimate users. It also won't stop the software from ending up on Pirate Bay.

    Just live with the fact that some people will use your program for free. You can't stop it from happening, and will simply piss off your customers by trying. And besides, Joe Average emailing your program forward will probably end up increasing your profits - after all, your biggest challenge is going to be getting word of its existence out there, and it's always possible that whoever it is emailed to will decide to pay the $5 out of the goodness of his heart, or whoever he emails it will, or...

    It is perfectly natural to get angry at the thought of someone benefiting from your hard work without paying you, but if you run a business you can't afford to let it affect your decisions.

  • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw (121541) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:00PM (#43229205) Journal

    I like simple one-time online activation (if it's an open download), or put it up on app stores with a price but no other measures. It's not much of a barrier to a pirate, any more than the lock on my front door is a barrier to a thief, but it sends a clear message: "this isn't free software, you're supposed to pay for this". That message will deter almost anyone who can be deterred.

  • Re:Sigh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by suutar (1860506) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:11PM (#43229337)
    imho, if the app is worth using, 5 bucks isn't enough pain to make me take the time to find a pirated version. If it's not worth using, it's not worth taking the time to find a pirated versions. Of course, that threshold is user-dependent.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:26PM (#43229495)

    In business there is no good or evil, there is only money. Don't let yourself fall into the ideology trap that pirates are evil - that's a question for a philosophy class in college or a million arguments on the internet - but all that should matter to you as a businessman is the money.

    The best possible case of DRM is to convert potential pirates into customers. There are lots of not-so-great cases, they generally involve pissing off your paying customers, something that should be avoided at all costs because paying customers who are unhappy will tell the world how unhappy your product has made them and that will discourage any new paying customers.

    So, I am going to suggest that instead of DRM to punish pirates you should look for ways to identify pirates and upsell to them. Give them the carrot instead of the stick, that way you never have to worry about accidentally hitting a paying customer with the stick - worse case is just more carrots.

    One option is to let the software run just fine without a serial number, but after some number of launches without a serial number, like maybe 20, start putting up a click-through start-up screen. On that screen you can nicely point out that they've used the software 20 times now and it is only fair that since they are getting so much value out of it, they should pay for it - remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Then give the user three choices:

    1) Enter their serial number
    2) Go to a web page where they can buy a serial number
    3) Click through and use the software anyway

    If someone is inclined to pay this helps them to remember, if they are already a paying customer and they lost their serial number or whatever, this won't stop them from getting their work done and so won't piss them off and if they are a hardcore pirate who will never pay, you still haven't lost anything anyway.

  • by tacokill (531275) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:29PM (#43229537)
    Yes, its paranoid. It's a credit card so you are already using someone else's money. If it lost, stolen, or otherwise you are only legally on the hook for $50 and I am not sure I have ever seen that enforced.

    Now if you had said a debit card.....whole different story.

    I've bet I've had over 30 credit cards replaced at various times because they got nicked or used without permission. It has cost me exactly $0 and a tiny bit of time filling out an affadavit that I didn't make the charges. But all in all, its a trvial process to dispute charges if you really didn't make them. Same for my business. We've had business credit cards used without permission as well -- same resolution process and same result.
  • by Nadaka (224565) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:33PM (#43229593)

    In addition to the mac and ms stores, STEAM is now distributing non-game software. Admittedly most of it is currently aimed at artists and developers involved with producing games, but utility for graphic designers would still fit in just fine.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @06:40PM (#43229639)

    Well, since after decades of trying nobody has ever managed to do more than delay the pirates for more than a few months I think groups 2 and 3 can be assumed to be permanent characteristics. And I seriously doubt your 1% figure, unless you're talking so far back that people didn't really think of software so much as the product as the reason people bought your hardware. Certainly in the late 80s I remember piracy being pretty rampant - software, music tapes, VHS, you name it. It just wasn't the sort of thing you would notice unless you actually saw somebody making a copy. It's more convenient now that you can copy stuff from people you've never met, but I think the bigger change is just that now the content creators can watch it happening.

    And frankly group 3 is almost irrelevant. It doesn't matter if they're responsible for 99.99% of the copies in existence, nothing you do will make them buy it, so any attempt to stop them from copying is 100% wasted effort. In fact it probably *reduces* your sales because sometimes people from group 1 or 2 will learn about it through them and then pay you. So in a rational world the goal is then:
    1) Don't seriously inconvenience goup 1 - these people are your bread and butter, you should be doing everything you can to make them happy.
    2) Do everything you can to convince group 2 that they should pay rather than pirate. Just keep in mind that you're competing against your own product stripped of all copy protection, so more secure and annoying copy protection actually works against you. Possible strategies include leveraging guilt and/or minor inconvenience during install (serial numbers, please don't copy screens, etc), or providing incentives for legitimate customers. Major or ongoing inconveniences just provide large-scale pirates incentive to strip out your copy protection in exchange for some geek cred, while providing potential customer incentive to choose the pirated version over the legitimate one. Moreover a poorly or maliciously implemented copy protection bypass can compromise the integrity and stability of your software in ways that aren't obviously due to the bypass, damaging your brand image.

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:05PM (#43229911)

    The guy is asking the wrong question. He should be asking questions like "How can I maximize profits?" or "How can people find out about my utility?" not "What is a reasonable way to deter piracy?". One doesn't necessarily follow from the other.

    In any case, coming back to his original question. Perhaps his utility could help his customers deter the piracy of the graphics they create with it (may be some kind of self-signing/watermarking/registration system for their own graphics). A customer who tries to protect his own assets will probably not want to try doing it with a pirated copy of the software. It would be too high a risk that whoever pirated that software also crippled/modified the functionality that would deter piracy of the images as well.

  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:09PM (#43229951) Homepage Journal

    If you cripple the product in ways that could be mistaken for a bug, then they will think your products are shit, and never buy them even after they get a real job and move out of their parent house.

  • by Jeng (926980) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:32PM (#43230141)

    The cost of RE-creating the supply is nothing.

  • by jasen666 (88727) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:43PM (#43230229)

    You've had to replace over 30 CARDS because they were compromised and yet have the balls to say it's paranoid to not give out your details to just anyone?
    Fucking really? Are you insane?

    I'm careful about who I trust with my card details and have never once had one of them compromised. I don't care how trivial you think it is to have to dispute the charges, then cancel & reissue the card. Most of us do not care to have such a blaise attitude about identity theft and fraud.
    This fraud also costs the merchants and card companies real money--which you may not be on the hook for Mr Whogivesafuck, but we all end up paying eventually in price increases, fees, and higher interest rates.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:12PM (#43230445) Homepage

    The only problem is they all take at least 30% and some have some fairly strict limits on what can be put on there.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:35PM (#43230583)

    It's something big studios don't get, but some indies got that one right, so you might want to try it too.

    What's the big reason people buy "normal" goods in stores instead of, say, from the back of trucks for a fraction of the price? I mean, you can get a big screen TV for a few 100 instead of a few 1000 bucks, no really. Here it is, don't ask, don't tell. Don't want it? Gee, why could that be?

    Could it be the warranty you get when you buy it in a store? Or the additional goodies that come with it?

    Make sure that people who buy your software get MORE out of it than just the software they'd also get from a pirated copy. When they register their copy, how about gaining access to you for support? Certainly not full time and 24/7, but even knowing that I COULD mail you my problems is a big psychological issue. How about offering that you will hear their suggestions for future versions and the promise of some updates free/cheap when they are implemented? Having the ear of the maker of a tool I enjoy using and feeling my input is valued sure is worth 5 or 10 bucks. And you get free suggestions for improvement of handling for free, too.

    One of the biggest assets for you (and it's amazing how many ignore this): If that tool allows the creation of plugins, offer a place where people can showcase and offer their plugins, or if it is used to create something these people could probably want to publish, offer them a place to do that. Of course only if they are paying customers. Webspace is cheap or even free, what's problematic is to get people to VISIT yours, and you having a customer base for this tool means that you're a hub for your customers when they are trying to reach like minded people.

    YOU are the center of this tool, wherever you make this tool point everyone using this tool WILL know, whether they like to or not.

    Even the ones that didn't pay for it.

    This makes whatever webspace you offer (even if it's merely some sort of linking hub) critical for anyone who wants to publish what this tool creates, unless he has a better platform. It is very unlikely that they do, though.

  • by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher@gmail.STRAWcom minus berry> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @11:58PM (#43231455) Homepage Journal

    Who doesn't save up at least a tiny bit of money (say 3 months salary) in case of a fucking emergency?

    Most of America, it turns out.

    Nearly half of America has less than $500 saved. []

    The average American - including all those billionaires - has less than $6000. []

    What the fuck would you have fucking done if your fucking roof had fucking leaked?

    There's no need for this level of rage. Take it down several notches, please; we can be civil in disagreement.

  • by Em Adespoton (792954) <> on Thursday March 21, 2013 @12:15AM (#43231519) Homepage Journal

    Just remember that this is a graphics utility for graphics designers... and if they're graphics designers, they've already got Adobe CS with a bunch of plugins (many plugins possibly pirated).

    Don't worry about piracy for the non-professionals; if they like/use your tool, that gives you mindshare. What you really want to be asking is "what will get graphics designers to lay down $5 to $10 for my product when they've already got CS?" When you've answered that question, piracy is no longer an issue (you want to saturate your target market; whether anyone else uses it or not is only useful as advertising, unless it opens up an unforeseen market).

    So if your product is for a specific market, make your protection such that they get some sort of a productivity-hindering reminder if they haven't paid, but don't bother going much further than that.

    Some people I know had the bright idea of doing "dongleware" -- where the core functionality of the product was free, but training, support and help (including everything but the most rudimentary built-in help) required registration. At $10, this is a no-brainer for anyone trying to get something done. The dongles could still be pirated, but why bother?

  • by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @01:13AM (#43231763) Homepage

    I would have thought tackling pirates could be best handled by placing trained security personal on targeted ships in the affected zones, argh me hearty.

    When it comes to copyright infringement, your content you choose, your customer will then make a choice. The most important thing is to make very, very clear your system to the customer and do not put the customers equipment at risk, nor force changes of use upon the customer.

    The best method is to reward validated registered users in some manner. Obviously additional content can be copied and distributed, so limited value there. So likely the best bet is accumulative discounts, the more you buy the bigger the discounts build. Treat long term repeat buyers with the same regard that old brick and mortar stores used to. So your content might not be quite as good but it is good enough and they prefer dealing with you.

    You really have to ignore people who copy and can't afford to buy because one day when they can afford to buy the most likely will, so no real immediate lose but a long term potential loss. You might as well ignore the right wing can already afford it but are just born too greedy and selfish, reacting to them, always a minority will simply damage the relationship between you and the majority of your customers. Of course if you are a greedy and selfish right wing freak you will simply believe everyone is like you, this will lead to confusion and chaos and end up pissing off most of your customers.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @02:54AM (#43232083) Journal

    Who doesn't save up at least a tiny bit of money (say 3 months salary) in case of a fucking emergency?

    Your living in a bit of a bubble on that one, sure I personally have a years worth of salary in my rainy day account but I'm in my 50's and have been earning good money for the last 20yrs. My daughter is married with 3 kids, they are a typical middle class couple, her hubby is a qualified mechanic and has a decent job with plenty of overtime. Like millions of other families just like them they live for the next paycheck, they have no other choice, they simply cannot afford the luxury of a 3 week cash buffer, let alone 3 months. And all this is in Australia which has a much better social "safety net" than the US.

    Unless you are either extraordinarily lucky or talented, it will take you a good 10-15yrs after leaving school before you have more assets than debts, especially if you decide to have children while your still young enough to enjoy them. Some people never get there, others experience some disaster that puts them back to square one after a lifetime of hard work. I personally know more than a few people over 40 who through no fault of their own are still living from paycheck to paycheck.

    You and I are lucky to be in our current financial situations, I know this because I started my working life as a HS drop out and for a few months in my 20's found myself homeless while at the same time being employed full time on a fishing trawler working the southern ocean. Your post is lacking the requisite humility and empathy for the vast majority of people who are in a less comfortable financial position, many of whom have worked themselves to a level of physical and mental exhaustion that, judging by your comments, I very much doubt you have ever experienced.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @07:56AM (#43233279) Homepage

    Like millions of other families just like them they live for the next paycheck, they have no other choice, they simply cannot afford the luxury of a 3 week cash buffer, let alone 3 months. And all this is in Australia which has a much better social "safety net" than the US.

    It may not be easy, and may even be very hard but it simply isn't true to say it isn't possible; and dismissing it as such simply makes it easier for people who decide it is 'too hard' to justify not doing so because it's impossible. What I realised early on in life is that having money makes it easier to get more money. Living pay cheque to pay cheque means you make decisions based on cash flow rather than cost. $5 a day is $2000 in a year, after a couple of years you at least have enough saved that you can handle most one-off expenses and make decisions that are cheaper in the long run.

    Yes there are people who have no savings through no fault of there own; there are vastly more who have no savings because they didn't take perfectly reasonable steps and viable steps to, where circumstances outside there control may affect them but not entirely determine them.

The bogosity meter just pegged.