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Reprinted by permission: This article was first published by James Redelfs for the Omaha Macintosh Users' Group newsletter. Copyright � 1990 by OMUG, Inc.

Is this still true today? We invite your comments

Personal Computer Software and Ethics

James Redelfs

This is something I wrote recently to give to a friend. As you read you will discover that it is basically aimed at a newcomer to personal computers. Some background is in order:

My friend is the pastor at our church. He was planning to purchase his first computer and, since I had given him a hands-on session with my SE, he asked for my advice. Unfortunately, he didn't take it: He bought a PC clone!
      To get the full impact of this you must remember that this man is a Baptist minister. Well, it seems that some (otherwise) upstanding member of the congregation offered to the pastor copies of his collection of compatible software.
      Being completely new and, thereby, ignorant of such things, my friend asked me if that was okay.
      My reply was typically cryptic: I told him that all he needed to do was wear a bandana on his head and a patch over one eye, run the Jolly Roger up the main mast and "have at it"!!
      He didn't get it. I then proceeded to explain what a Software Pirate was. The minister replied, "Oh!"
      As a favor, I wrote him the following piece. I don't think he'll be borrowing any software. He's a good preacher but he never struck me as the swashbuckling type!
      The manual that is included with most commercial computer programs encourages the user to make a copy of the original, "Master" diskette. This is to provide the user with a "working copy" of the program so that, in the event of a diskette failure, the user has not lost the program - he can simply make another working copy.
      The manual also expressly forbids the distribution of such copies to ANYONE else. To do so qualifies the offending party to wear the "Software Pirate badge".

The dawn of copy protection

In the early days of the personal computer, to prevent such piracy, some programmers copy-protected their wares. Copy-protected disks are just as the words imply: they are encoded to prevent the accurate copying of the data to another medium, whether it is your personal hard disk drive or another floppy disk.
      Copy-protecting of diskettes became the accepted standard back when hard disk drives were unheard of. Then, personal computer users only had floppies with which to operate their system. The users simply used the original, master diskette. In the event of a disk failure, the user had to mail the diskette back to the distributor and would then receive a replacement.
      As computers and the programs that supported them became more sophisticated, the number of floppy diskettes that needed to be accessed to perform a day's work increased dramatically. Just before the advent of the hard disk drive, most personal computer systems were sold with at least two floppy diskette drives. The user simply spent a good deal of his computing time "playing musical disks" to get his work done.

"Let's word processor is on this disk, my checkbook is on that disk, my terminal emulation program (makes a modem work) is on another floppy, and my address/telephone 'book' is on yet another diskette."

As you can imagine, before hard drives became popular, the average computer user had an immense collection of floppy diskettes that he constantly used.
      The hard disk drive changed things dramatically. While the highest capacity floppy can currently hold about 1,400 kilobytes (1.4 megabytes), hard disk drives today are commonly found to have storage capacities in excess of 100,000 kilobytes (100 megabytes). The hard disk drive made it unnecessary to constantly "feed" floppies to the computer. The user simply copied the data from its source (usually a diskette) onto his hard drive.
      Hard disk drives also presented a new problem: Copy-protected diskettes would NOT transfer their contents to the hard drive. The user would STILL have to access that particular floppy disk in order to use its data.
      In recent years, the proliferation of hard disk drives has exerted pressure on software distributors to NOT copy-protect their wares. This allows the computer users to utilize his hard drive to its full potential: No more musical floppies!
      This has opened up the world of computering (sic) to a whole new generation of software "pirates" - those that steal software.
      The duplication of copyrighted material, whether it is a book, a cassette tape, a motion picture or magnetic "floppy" diskette, is a violation of copyright laws. It is a crime.
      Because you cannot hold in your hand the words from a book, the music from a cassette tape, the images from a motion picture or the data from a floppy disk, the copying of such mediums has the potential to turn even the most saintly among us to thievery.
      Here is where controversy rages. Here is where a person's ethical standards can take a severe beating. The crime is very easy to commit and there is seemingly NO victim.

But is there no victim?

It takes many, many hours and days of intensive work to write and perfect a useful computer program. Is not the programmer due his reward, just as is the carpenter or bricklayer? Should not the musician or movie producer be compensated for his efforts, as is the bank teller or auto mechanic?
      The Information Age has introduced many comparatively intangible products, and, as a result, has created an atmosphere in which many otherwise upstanding individuals are inclined to break the law.
      Here is where the individual must be guided by his own standard of conduct. Just the same as exceeding the speed limit by ONLY four miles per hour and giving it little or no thought, the pirating of computer software is an ethical challenge that we must all face.
      Is there REALLY a grey area to all of this? No. It's quite simple: If the material is copyrighted, you may not distribute a copy of it. It really doesn't matter if it is to your brother or a casual friend. Is it for your own, personal use? If the answer is yes, then you may copy it to your hearts content. You can paper your walls with it. Just don't give it away. Kinds of software
      In the world of personal computers, there are three kinds of software: CommercialWare, ShareWare and FreeWare.
      CommercialWare is copyrighted software that is available from numerous retail and mail order outlets. The unauthorized distribution of such software is illegal.

ShareWare is another matter.

Many fine programs are available as ShareWare. The author writes the program and then distributes it, essentially unrestricted, to the public.
      ShareWare is available from numerous sources including local computer users' groups, on-line from Bulletin Board Systems and another user that possesses the program.
      There are several constraints associated with the use of ShareWare - most of which involve an undefined "Honor System".
      The authors of most ShareWare programs include in their documentation the stipulation that, if you use the program regularly, you must register yourself as a user of the program with its author. This usually includes sending the author a check in the amount of $10 to $40.
      ShareWare is very popular in the world of personal computing. Copyrighting a program and getting it commercially distributed is simply more work than a lot of fine programmers are willing to do. A ShareWare author is, for the most part, a "diehard", dedicated computer user. He is just as dedicated to advancing the state of the art as he is in making a lot of money.
      Subscribing to the "Honor System" by paying for the ShareWare that one uses is a source of pride for many computer enthusiasts.


The third type of computer programs available, called FreeWare, are just as the name implies: Free.
      These programs are frequently smaller in size and are quite often a game or little "utility" � a program that helps your computer to become more user-friendly (easier to use). FreeWare is usually unsupported by the author. In other words, once the author has distributed the software, he is done with it; no further upgrades or improvements should be expected.
      FreeWare is frequently referred to as PD software, or Public Domain software. There is a lot of FreeWare "out there" - some of it is good, some is useless and a very small amount are vehicles for computer viruses.

In closing...

So, there it is! A not-so-brief dissertation on my somewhat limited knowledge of software - with a little moralizing thrown in for good measure!

A computer without software, or programs, is essentially an expensive doorstop! Playing the "game" strictly by the book (paying for all CommercialWare and ShareWare), will find the computer user spending easily as much as, or more than, he did for his system. That's just the way it is.

Jim Redelfs

Made available here as a community service of The User Group Network, and The User Group Academy.
      This article is copyright � 1990 by James Redelfs and OMUG, Inc. (the Omaha Macintosh Users' Group). Permission is granted to any non-profit Macintosh Users' Group to publish it in a single issue of their newsletter, provided that a notice of copyright remains in place AND that a copy of said issue is mailed to OMUG, Box 24111, Omaha, NE 68124. No other use may be made of this article without the express written permission of James Redelfs.

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