[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Software Piracy

February 9th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Software Piracy - Byte - May 1981It’s the software Vikings!

Heh. And you thought digital piracy was a new problem. It’s actually as old as the PC software business itself. Some of the earliest evidence of this comes from a famous February 1976 open letter to the Homebrew Computer Club in which Bill Gates (then “General Partner” of a small company called Micro-Soft) protested the rampant “theft” of his company’s popular Altair BASIC.

Reflect on that date for a moment: February 1976 — less than a year after the Altair 8800 launched the personal computer revolution, people were already illegally copying Microsoft products with great abandon. (Some things never change.) Of course, selling pre-programmed software for personal computers was a new concept back then. And heck, personal computers were a new concept back then.

But as time passed and PCs grew in influence, the piracy problem didn’t go away. In fact, it continued as a hot-button topic throughout most of the 1980s. BYTE magazine devoted its May 1981 issue to the subject, commissioning its regular cover artist, Robert Tinney, to provide a visual hook for the monthly theme. Meditating on “software piracy,” Tinney concocted a potent and iconographic image of a fierce viking ship cutting through rough seas, its massive floppy disk sail standing at full mast. To this day, the image (seen above) remains Tinney’s most famous illustration from the BYTE years.

If his prints of this image hadn’t sold out long ago, I’d buy one in a heartbeat.

[ From BYTE, May 1981 ]

Discussion topic of the week: Do you pirate commercial software? Why or why not?

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13 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Software Piracy”

  1. Patrick is Very Evolved Says:

    Clearly the solution to old problems are old solutions. I’d love to see Windows 7 come out with an anti-piracy verification quiz:

    Enter the symbol on page 28 of the manual.
    Enter the co-ordinates of Empath Abby from the cloth map.
    Assemble the cardboard decoder wheel….

    Cheers Patrick

    PS. That image is stunning – Makes me think that there’s a market for more household items other than posters: How about a bedspread or quilt shaped like a 5 1/4 disk? I’ll get my Mum working on the case ASAP.

  2. XCALIBR8 Says:

    That’s an awesome picture. I personally don’t find the need to download pirate software anymore. Now that there is so many great freeware/open source packages out there there’s usually an answer to whatever need you may have. I still have my fare share of downloaded abandonware/oop programs that I still use regularly.

  3. Fessic Says:

    I have once or twice, but felt guilty about it. So I guess you could say I don’t because it’s wrong.

  4. SQLGuru Says:

    I never downloaded “WAREZ”. That isn’t to say I never used any “off-site backups with frequent integrity checks” for my friends. It was primarily in my C64 days. Back then I didn’t really know better (around Junior High) and I also didn’t have any money. But once I found freeware/shareware (ah, the wonders of FTP) and actually started working, my “sailing days” were behind me.

  5. SQLGuru Says:

    How about a T-Shirt instead of a poster? http://stores.ebay.com/Robert-Tinney-Art


    I wonder if he’d sign it before shipping……only $12 + $3 for a “baseball” style T-shirt.

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    I’m sure he’d sign it if you wanted him to, SQLGuru. Just ask him when you buy it.

    I’ve actually bought a print of his before and it’s really neat. I have it framed in my living room.

  7. Jason Scott Says:

    I have issues with the characterization of the situation around the Bill Gates letter of people copying Microsoft software with illegal abandon. I don’t know if this tiny text entry window is the best way to go about describing it all, but in summary:

    As far as I can tell, the letter was meant to cleave, with specific precision, a market where there had been none before. It did it utilizing methods of guilt, insinuation, and shame that are Microsoft trademarks for years afterwards. The market was hardware, not software, and the group very, very small, with machines working at all quite a miracle, and the price Microsoft demanded/charged was huge, absolutely huge.

  8. Geoff V. Says:

    Back in the day I used to “Pirate” Win98 for folks that had purchased off-the-shelf computers but were not given installation disks. I also ran pirated versions of NT, Server, Server’03, and XP for my College to check for application issues from 1999-2003.

    Personally I never ran pirated operating systems or games on my home machine. I was one of those that would send $5 to a guy that produced freeware I used on a regular basis in the late 80s and early 90s. I still have thank you letters from a few game developers. Several of them were typed on typewriters.

  9. alkmie Says:

    I have 3 hp’s that came with windows (on the harddrive) restore was a pain (useless hp apps) so I formated the harddrived download xp and used my serialz
    I also tested vista and windows 7 that way neither of witch I use. if linux every got direct x id probably leave the windows world for good.

  10. 128K Says:

    I do, since I do graphic design/web mostly for a hobby at the moment & paying $1600 dollars (US) for a bungle of the latest software (Adobe Master Collection) on top of my $2K Imac 24″ just to stay current is ridic on my modest budget.

    It can be a Catch 22 trying to learn new technologies & industry standards w/out a decent job to afford buying them in the first place? So that’s my predictament/motivation. If it weren’t for torrent sites I’d never have a chance, praise the Pirate BBS of our modern times.

    On a side note, the Pirate Bay, largest world’s torrent tracker site is under a court battle with music & movie industry.

  11. Marc B Says:

    I have one of the original, signed 11×14 in perfect condition for sale. First $750 takes it.

  12. DB Says:

    Even though this thread is rather stale, I found this site because I have always remembered this magazine cover when I bought this copy of Byte as a teenager. I wish I still had that copy.
    I also remember some of the letters to the editor in future editions complaining about the inaccuracy of equating Vikings with pirates. LOL!
    Thanks for posting it.

  13. George Cox Says:

    I actually have this signed print. #288/500

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