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ATPM 12.04
April 2006



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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Mark Tennent,

Copyleft, Right?

Gervase Markham, one of Mozilla Foundation’s total of three employees world-wide, wrote recently in the London Times of his run-in with a Trading Standards Officer who had all-but accused him of ending capitalism and bringing down the western world. The civil servant, whose job is to ensure that traders are not cheating customers or selling counterfeit goods, contacted Gervase prior to taking action against a dealer they had “caught” trying to sell CDs containing Firefox. They did not like to hear what Gervase had to say.

The principles behind Copyleft (as opposed to Copyright) software such as Firefox were explained to the officer—that it is free and anyone can copy it and sell the media it is on. Gervase advised that any confiscated CDs should be returned. The Trading Standards officer responded incredulously that by making software free it became an impossible job to enforce anti-piracy legislation or to give advice to businesses over what is and isn’t permitted. The officer couldn’t believe that Mozilla allowed dealers to make money from something that people have free access to.

Around the same time as Gervase wrote his column, Microsoft announced a change in its licensing agreement that had almost the exact opposite effect of Copyleft and which would have better occupied the Trading Standards Officer. Now, registered users of Microsoft’s operating systems have to agree that if they change the motherboard in their computer, they must purchase a new copy of Windows. This is because, according to Microsoft, the motherboard is the essence of what a computer is, with the CPU being the heart. If a heart transplant takes place it is no longer the same computer and so it needs a new copy of Windows.

While the first instance above is perfectly legitimate for end-users to copy and distribute software, yet looks extremely dubious to those charged with policing software copyright; the latter is perfectly legitimate but looks extremely dubious to end-users who have already bought the software and simply want to continue using it. After all, a computer user only needs to plug his hard disk into a different but compatible computer to recreate the look and feel (and soul?) of his computer experience. Is it not the software and how it is configured that is the essence of a computer, not the silicone widgets and electronic thingies inside? Using Microsoft’s anthropomorphic viewpoint, one could just as easily say the power-supply unit is the heart of the computer by providing the energy that makes all the rest actually work.

Similarly, in the world of music, how many times will recording companies extract payment for the same piece of music? It is not inconceivable that we can be charged repeatedly for the music we bought on records, then bought again on cassette tape, and again for the CD version, and again for MP3 download. That’s not to mention the three types of record (78, 45, 33), 8-track, mini-disc, and DAT versions we might have purchased. While the sound quality of the music on the different formats may, arguably, have improved, very often the quality of the audio device it is played on has actually declined. The difference between the sound from a cassette compared with a CD, over the noise of a car’s engine and road noise, is hardly noticeable. How many iPods are plugged into powered speakers to become a roving hi-fi system to take the place of far better quality but fixed audio systems? Recently, the recording industry wants to make it illegal to make MP3s from our own CDs and presumably LPs, according the EFF.

Luckily, modern musicians are not so enamored with recording contracts as they used to be. Even modest computers are capable of providing multi-track recording and mixing, with all the post-recording tweaks that anyone could want. This doesn’t negate the skills and experience of recording engineers, far from it. US-based musician Tim Carless, when he lived in Brighton, England, set up an analogue recording studio that deliberately used acoustic rather than digital recording. His success can be measured against the likes of Van Morrison who chose to use his studio. Multi–award winning UK band Arctic Monkeys spurned the usual channels to success, and instead released tracks on free MP3 sites before they were available for purchase. When they were on sale, fans paid for the same tracks they had already downloaded, pushing the band to the top of the charts.

Where does this leave us as Mac users? While officially frowned upon, Apple as yet does not stop us using the same copy of Mac OS on our desktop and laptop computers, although family editions of software are available to salve guilty consciences. Apple has nothing in place to prevent us installing GarageBand or the latest iPhoto on more than one computer, and apart from their programs aimed at professionals, Apple’s software applications have no automatic, sneaky, phoning home. In the 1990s Quark’s ubiquitous XPress desktop publishing software became the industry standard as much for the ease of copying it to multi-machines as for its abilities. One wonders if Apple will really rein in OS X for Intel on non-Apple computers or if they will only pay lip service to preventing it and hope to pick up new Mac customers as a result. Mac OS X holds a great deal of interest in the world of non-Apple, Intel-powered computers where forums on sites such as Slashdot are asking who will install it on their PC if it is possible.

It does bring up the question, though, that if we have already paid for the software, should we be expected to pay again for a whole new version if all we want to use are the features of our existing copy? It may be that our computer died and we have been forced to replace it with a new one that our old software cannot run on. An upgrade fee for compatibility seems reasonable, just as is paying for other upgrades in the lifetime of a piece of software. But Microsoft’s insistence on linking Windows to one particular computer and defining what parts can and can’t be upgraded without requiring a new copy of Windows is surely a step too far in their favor.

The crux of the matter is that copying software (and music) may be morally wrong but it isn’t necessarily theft in a criminal sense. In the UK, software is covered under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which makes it a criminal offense only if software is copied for sale or hire, imported into the UK otherwise for private and domestic use, possessed in the course of business with a view to committing an act which would infringe the copyright, or is distributed without proper license of the copyright holder. This goes for old, out-of-date software too, which is covered for 50 years. More recently the Computer Misuse Act 1990 covered hacking into computers and software, making it a criminal offense if the intention or action caused damage. But even if an employee made a copy of software and took it home, he would only be committing a criminal offense if he took it on media that was not his. If he copied it onto his own floppy disk (CD, DVD, USB device), no criminal offense was committed. As with all things legal, the Acts are open to interpretation and testing in court, but as yet this has not given any clarity to the situation regarding copying.

Around the world, the problem of copyright enforcement gets even more clouded. Under Islamic law, for example, there is no such thing as copyright, and traditional Islamic law treats infringement simply as a breach of ethics, although many Islamic counties have adopted copyright laws, which is unlucky for those who do breach them because they are at risk of amputation of their right hand. In North America, there isn’t even any agreement between Canada and America as to what constitutes “fair use.” In Canada “fair dealing” means everything is an infringement unless otherwise defined in law, whereas in America “fair use” means that not-for-profit use is okay. Under communism the means of production are owned by the people in the form of the state, and while an individual’s creativity is recognized often in the form of a one-off cash reward, any further benefits belonged to the people as a whole—the state.

With copyright being such a minefield, it is no wonder that Gervase had a hard time convincing the Trading Standards Officer that they were wrong. They even questioned whether he was able to speak on behalf of the Mozilla Foundation, which is actually quite difficult to prove because Mozilla’s whole existence is in cyberspace. He eventually settled the matter by asking the officer to take it on trust because, after all, they had contacted him at the e-mail address

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Reader Comments (6)

Jim Jammer · April 3, 2006 - 20:44 EST #1
I have a powerbook and it came with 10.3.9 I also have a powermac that has 10.2.8 on it. I called apple to see if the 10.3.9 would work on the powermac and they told me it would not. I'm wondering if that was the official line but that it really will work. Any claification?
ATPM Staff · April 3, 2006 - 20:56 EST #2
Jim - it might, but the reason Apple told you no is because what you are proposing is technically not legal. The license of OS X 10.3.9 is intended for one computer—specifically your PowerBook that it came bundled with.

And come to think of it, the OS X installers that are bundled with computers will usually only install on the same model computer. If you had another PowerBook, it would probably install, but it still wouldn't be legal.

The license agreement states that you own a copy of OS X for each computer—or you have a family 5-pack of licenses which you can purchase for less than the price of two single-user copies.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · April 3, 2006 - 21:01 EST #3
Actually, Apple does make some strides to prevent a license from being installed on multiple computers. True, if you go into a store and buy a box for the latest version of OS X, it will install on any supported Mac. The distributions of the OS that are bundled with Macs lately I believe will install on other machines, but only if they are the same model. For example, even though I protested on the grounds of licensing legality, a friend of mine wanted me to install Tiger from his new G5 onto his old G4 iMac. A message appeared that I could not install OS X onto that particular computer.
Jim Jammer · April 4, 2006 - 15:25 EST #4
(Editor Note: ATPM does not necessarily agree with or condone some opinions in this comment, but we value the opinion of all our readers and retain the comment to share that opinion.)

Thanks for your reply. I have just found out that when I restart my powermac from my ext. firewire Hd using my powerbook clone partition, well it works on my powermac just like it does on my powerbook. For some reason I can't print but everything else works.

I hesitated to go to the mac from a pc because I had lots of software for the pc. I also could install my os on any machine I had. The idea that you have to buy the os for each machine is not something I will do. I will just stick with what I have and stumble along. However, that makes me less loyal to the mac. It makes them look like they are just out to milk you for every dime. It would be different if I were a company, but an individual I believe should be able to use the leagally purchased os on any of his or her machines. I like mac a lot but am finding it hard to stay loyal as it gets real expensive trying to stay legal. Another thing that gripes me is that they are not trying to keep us 10.2.8 users up to speed on security issues. I feel they aren't interested in you unless you keep up with every os change they make. Just my opinion.
Jimmy Gleason · April 5, 2006 - 10:29 EST #5
Software companies need to be realistic and make some distinctions between home users with multiple computers and businesses where multiple computers are actually being productive at the same time. Are individuals with a desktop and laptop supposed to feel morally bound to buy multiple copies when they can only use one machine at a time? Even in family settings (our anyway), the times when two computers are in use at once are rare, and even then the second user is probably a child doing homework. If you buy a boxed copy of the Mac OS it will install on any machine that's capable of running that version. You can install a box specific copy on another model by using target disk mode and installing through the original box. I think it's commendable that Apple does not impose network restrictions and it's also commendable of Adobe to allow a copy of Photoshop or CS2 to be installed on both desktop and laptop in their license. I think the Microsoft thing about the motherboard is hilarious––is that for real? Maybe they should just ask for donations.
Mark Tennent · April 6, 2006 - 03:59 EST #6
Are individuals with a desktop and laptop supposed to feel morally bound to buy multiple copies when they can only use one machine at a time?

I think that is the case if you read through the "Read Me" in the installer.

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