Backing up software could have legal implications
When Grokster, one of the most popular Internet file sharing sites announced a few days ago that they were shutting down operations, many folks, including the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America breathed a sigh of relief.
These organizations have long maintained that such file sharing sites violate copyright laws because they encourage the proliferation of illegal copies of movies and music.
Most people agree that music and movies made available on such sites are illegal. After all, the process to make these copies is commonly referred to as "ripping," which, of course, is based on the slang phrase "rip off."
But what about software? For years, we've encouraged folks to make backups of their critical data, including software applications. We've never seen this as an issue; after all, as long as the copy is solely for backup purposes, what's the harm?
Since Internet file sharing and ripping has become more and more popular, however, we've been made keenly aware of copyright laws. U.S. copyright laws prohibit making copies of creative works without the permission of the copyright holder. A lot of people contend that an exception to the copyright laws, known as "fair use," allows you to make a backup copy of your software, so long as you purchased it legally. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast guideline on what is and is not fair use.
Those in the music and movie industry seem to have a different take on the subject. DVDs have always employed some methods of digital copy prevention, and CDs are moving in that direction as well. While it may seem subtle, this is a key differentiator. Under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, it is illegal to skirt copy prevention technologies, no matter the reason, and no matter how weak such technologies might be. As such, fair use doesn't mean much if copy prevention technologies are employed.
Nowadays, most software manufacturers seem to agree with the concept of fair use, and do not use copy-prevention technology on their CDs, DVDs, or other media, opting instead for on-line registration or special key codes.
How do you know if your software is copy protected? You could read the fine print on the license agreements, but the backup policy is not always well-defined.
A safe way to check if your software CD or DVD employs copy prevention software is simply to try to copy its contents onto your hard drive or another CD/DVD using standard Windows (or other operating system) tools. If the copy goes smoothly and you can open the copied files, you should be good to go. If you get any messages such as "file cannot be read" or "file cannot be written," you've probably encountered a copy-protected CD/DVD.
is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. Call him at 944-8742 or e-mail email@example.com