First off, to all of you who've stolen software, and I will include myself in that list, you (and I) suck. You have only yourself to blame for how damn difficult and frustrating it is to install and update software. Writing software is incredibly complex and time consuming. When you steal it, you are mostly ripping off people like yourselves — creative thinkers who love music and are trying to make something cool and unique. In most cases they're making far less money than they could if they applied their talents elsewhere in a more corporate or governmental arena. I mean, who do you think makes more money, Dave Amels who wrote the code for the Bomb Factory plug-ins, or the guy who writes code for missile guidance systems for bombs sold to the government? Dave and his partner Erik Gavriluk started Bomb Factory as a labor of love, but thanks to rampant theft of their software, their only real choice was to work at it essentially for free or sell their plug-ins to Digidesign, which they ultimately did as they were so frustrated.
If you are using someone's software as a tool to make or record music, you should pay for it. You don't steal guitars, or even guitar picks from the locally owned music store do you? If you're earning a living making or recording music, you have even less excuses to steal software. You're making your living by denying someone else the ability to do the same. You are a parasite.
Okay, with that out of the way, copy protection sucks.
I've spent the last two days trying to legally install two plug-ins onto my Pro Tools computer. The first, Arturia's Analog Factory, uses a proprietary USB key as opposed to the industry standard iLok system. Why? I don't know. Does it suck? Yes it does. Luckily I did have one more space in my USB hub for yet another dongle. But the installation was anything but straightforward. It might have something to do with the fact that the auths on the dongle were time-bombed NFRs [Not For Resale] instead of the auths you might find if you bought the software from a retailer. Nonetheless, the documentation was in conflict with the actual installation process. Besides the USB dongle, I was also provided with the installation CD-R and a plastic credit card thing with a license number. This, it turns out, had nothing to do with the actual authorizations. It was a 16-digit number, but the authorization software was looking for a 32-digit number. By just poking around I finally figured out that I needed to install and run a second licensing application to "turn on" the demo period on the USB key. But my problems still weren't solved, as my studio computer is not hooked up the web, and this process required internet access to work. So, I ended up installing Analog Factory and the proprietary copy protection onto my laptop where I didn't need it and wouldn't use it, so I could authorize the USB key. Okay, now it works. At least until it expires...
So why didn't Arturia just use iLok, which is pretty much an industry standard and tends to be nearly bug- free? Most people already have an iLok key. Why make people deal with yet another USB dongle? Doing timed demos and NFRs with iLok is easy — we use this system all the time here at Tape Op with review copies of plug- ins and other software.1
So my next install was a pre-release version of the EMI/Chandler EQ plug-ins from the Abbey Road/EMI TG consoles. I had downloaded the plug-ins from EMI's password protected FTP server and they had deposited an NFR authorization in my iLok account. Should be easy right? Wrong. Firstly, I had problems selecting the correct authorization, as they were all just numbers and I still had some unused EMI TG compressor auths that were time bombed. Fortunately, the iLok software was "smart" enough to not let me overwrite my "never expires" TG compressor authorization with an "expires in 14 days" authorization. I suggested to the kind folks at Chandler and Abbey Road that they might want to append the words "compressor" or "EQ" after the number names of their plug-ins, but this is a minor quibble. Next I plugged in the iLok key, synchronized it and started the downloads. It seemed to go Okay, but then I got a "communication error" from the site and it just locked up. When I got things back up, I was told that I had unfinished downloads that I needed to finish before I could use the site with my iLok key. When I followed the instructions to "finish" I got another error message (in red!) that told me something to the effect of "You're screwed for now, this isn't going to work, try again later." So I filled out the tech support form and contacted the folks at iLok. Did they get back to me in time to solve the problem before my session I was hoping to use the EMI EQs on? No. But in all fairness, they did get back to me very quickly. They reset my account and I went for attempt number two of downloading the licenses. The iLok synchronization process is a bit tedious. It seems like it references every license you have on your key, which can take several minutes. While all this is happening there is very little meaningful feedback to let you know that things are going okay or not. The first attempt timed out or lost communication or something like that. The second attempt just returned me to the screen I started from. The third attempt was the same as the first. I've been having some problems with Safari lately, so I decided to try Firefox next. First attempt timed out again. Second attempt worked, but said that one of the licenses that was not installed in my initial crash was already there and couldn't be overwritten. Third attempt: Success!
As I said before, the response from tech support at iLok was very timely and solved my problems. Nonetheless, the experience of installing these plug-ins was, as is almost always the case, was frustrating and far more time-consuming than it should have been.
1. So, in conclusion:
Stealing software sucks. If you steal software and/or support hackers who look for ways to subvert copy protection, you are directly responsible for the constantly evolving quicksand that is copy protection today. Software would be cheaper if everyone paid for it, but it's priced to compensate for the fact that a lot of people do not pay for it.2 I have made an effort over the last ten years to buy and legally own all the software I use in my studio and in publishing this magazine. When I first started doing graphic design on my Macintosh Plus, I used all stolen software and typefaces. Years previously, I had programmed some early music software that was commercially released and also had some friends who sold typefaces for the Mac that they had created. I gave it a little bit of thought and I realized that stealing software wasn't something I felt okay about. As I began to earn a living at it, I bought all the software I used.
2. Copy protection sucks. I hope it's clear that I'm very sympathetic to the people and companies that write and sell software, but you need to make installing your software as easy and hassle-free as possible for the people who do pay for it. Minor glitches aside, I feel like iLok is still the best solution going in that direction. I realize that I'm lucky to get NFRs and review software for Tape Op. It's a privilege I don't take for granted. I know I sound like I'm whining. But if you don't raise your voice once in a while, nothing changes.
3. I'm pissing in the wind. I know this. I went and voted last Tuesday as well.
1. Frédéric Brun of Arturia responded to my ranting and informed me that their USB key is not proprietary but made by Synnchrosoft, which is also widely used by Nuendo, Cubase, IK Multimedia and Korg among others. Synchrosoft is the main dongle for the Steinberg DAWs, while iLok is the favored system within the Pro Tools community. Frédéric felt after evaluating both systems that Synchrosoft was superior for both the end user and Arturia. He also mentioned that many of the problems I had were due to my NFR license and that paying customers shouldn't experience any problems.
2. A few years ago, I was talking to a well known plug- in developer who said that almost 80% of their plug-ins that were in use were hacked. A friend of mine who develops some very popular typefaces (Including the one used for the interview questions in this magazine) once told me she would prefer to be paid one penny each time someone used her typefaces rather than sell them for $100 and have so many people use them illegally.