Sunday, November 20, 2005

Computer Nazis!

If there’s one area where Sunny and I are completely different, it’s our taste in movies.

We do have a few movies that we both like, but most of the time if I love a movie, she hates it and vice versa. I like sci-fi and off the wall wacky comedies, whereas Sunny tend to like, for want of a better term, chick-flicks.

This means I tend to watch quite a few movies on the computer, as we only have one DVD Player.

So, this weekend, I set myself a project. You see, toting DVD’s back and forth to the computer, at least for me, leads to discs being left all over the place and getting scratched. When I’m done watching a movie, I leave it in the drive. The next time I need to use the computer, the disc ends up getting taken out of the drive and left on top of the computer…and I’ll put it away once I’m done…honest!

In short, I decided to turn my computer into a part-time DVD jukebox.

Basically, I used a great little app called DVD Shrink, which allows you to create a disc image from your DVD, while cutting the file size roughly in half, with no noticeable loss in quality. (Ok, this is mostly meant so you can copy an 8gig dual layer disc onto a 4.5 gig DVD-R, but I like it because it uses less disc space). Basically, you start with an 8 gigabyte DVD, and end up with a 4 gigabyte DVD image.

Now, a disk image is, in essence, exactly what it sounds like. The computer makes a ‘picture’ of the surface of the disc. Usually, you take this image and burn it to a recordable DVD to get a copy…but I didn’t want a copy, I wanted them stored on my hard-drive.

Unfortunately, you can’t just drag the files off a DVD movie disc, put them in a folder, and double click to play them. If you could, it would make pirating them just a little too easy. Also, just double clicking a Disc Image does nothing either.

Here’s where the clever bit comes in. Using another program (personally, I like Alcohol 120%), you can ‘mount’ these disk images.

What ‘mounting’ a disc does is ‘fool’ the computer into thinking that there’s another DVD-ROM drive connected to the computer when there isn’t. You mount the disc image in the new virtual drive, and then you can play the disc image, as though it was an actual disc.

If that was all Greek to you, basically what you’re doing is creating a ‘fake’ DVD drive to play your ‘fake’ DVD. Basically, your computer is just reading the information of your hard-drive, but thinks it’s reading the data off a DVD.

With me so far?

I’d like to point out at this point that all of the above is entirely legal, as long as you own the discs you’re mounting. I’ve said this a million times, but when you buy a DVD, you’re purchasing the license to view it. That I choose to copy these discs to my hard-drive, rather than read directly from the disc comes under ‘fair use’. If I put them in a shared folder, or put them on Bittorrent, I’d be in the shit. However, I’ve just copied them to my computer for my own personal use.

In short, for convenience, and to save a bit of wear and tear on my discs, I have a folder on my computer with almost my entire DVD library in it. To watch a movie, I start Alcohol 120%, mount the image in the virtual drive, and a double click lets me watch my DVD.

So I’ve legally stored my DVDs on my computer, using 100% legal, licensed software. That shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

Enter the Computer Nazis.

So everything was working fine…until I tried to run a game…a legal game, a game that I bought, installed, put in a valid CD key and still have the receipt for.

I tried to run it. The splash screen appeared, then…DINK! Error Window.

“Emulation Software Detected! You must uninstall this software to continue!”

Let me translate for the non-techies out there.

The Emulation software is Alcohol. An emulator, in layman terms, is a bit of software that lets a computer ‘act’ like something else. IE, you can get an emulator that makes your computer act like an old Commodore 64 or and Amiga. Alcohol 120% lets part of your hard-drive act like a DVD-Rom.

Basically, the game spotted that I have a virtual drive set up on my machine (That’s right, the one I use for my movies…the one that’s completely legal)…and it didn’t like it.

Basically, this game is saying:

“Stop! You have the necessary software on this computer to copy and mount this disc! You’re an evil software pirate! Well, Sonny Jim, if you think you’re playing this game, when you obviously copied it, you’ve got another thing coming! Get rid of that software, or I’m not starting up!”

That’s right, because I have the necessary tools on my computer to copy games, this particular game refuses to run until those tools are removed. It doesn’t think that it has been copied itself, it’s just noticed the potential for being copied.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I own this computer. I own every single bit of software on it. Why does someone else get to say what software I can and can’t put on my computer?

Basically, the Game Designers think they have the right to tell me that I can’t own another piece of completely legal software, because it’s possible for me to use it to pirate their game, something I haven’t done. It’s not complaining that it’s being ran from an actual copied disc, it’s not complaining because it’s being run from a virtual drive… it’s not detecting anything actually wrong…except that a virtual drive is present on the machine.

This is the equivalent of a TV refusing to turn on, because a VCR is attached, and the VCR can be used to play pirated movies.

Now, luckily, I’m tech-savvy enough to go and download another program that allows me to camouflage the virtual drive, so the game can’t detect it.

However, that means that to do something completely legal on my computer, to save myself a bit of trouble by storing my DVD library, I have an app to copy DVD’s, a piece of software to mount copied images, and another piece of software dedicated to getting around copy protection.

Pirating tools, in other words.

All this because software and movie producers are getting so over-zealous with their copy protection, that you sometimes need to ‘pirate’ and copy a legal disc that you own, just to get around the stupid copy protection, which is wrongly accusing you of something illegal. Also, honest users like myself are being forced to turn pseudo-pirate, because private companies think they have the right to tell me what I can and can’t do with my own computer.

I’ve even noticed that a lot of game demos are turning up with copy protection. The PC demo of F.E.A.R. has a warning message telling you it’s illegal to copy or distribute the demo in any way! Isn’t the whole point of a demo (being free and all), to reach as many people as possible so they can see if they like it to buy the game? A demo is advertising fuckwits! You’re trying to limit the number of people who see your ad! It makes no sense!

I’m all for copy protection. I like games and movies, and want the games and movie studios to have enough money to keep releasing better and better games. Make your disc as hard as you like to copy…but don’t make it unplayable, just because I have certain software on my machine. If you bastards weren’t so over-zealous, that software wouldn’t have to be there.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as unbreakable copy protection. No matter what you do, someone, somewhere will find a way around it, and distribute the copying software that lets a complete newbie copy a disc with a single click.

I know piracy hurts your business, but making things as difficult as possible for your genuine customers is not the way to encourage business.


OzzyC said...

...I know piracy hurts your business, but making things as difficult as possible for your genuine customers is not the way to encourage business...

You just hit the nail on the head. Why should I go pay $50.00 for a game, or $20.00 for a movie, or $15.00 for a CD if I can't play, watch or listen to it where I want? I'm no pirate, but I want my shit to work quickly, easily and consistently. The copy protection they've put on is nuts. I've pretty much stopped buying video games and CDs. The only reason I buy DVDs is because that's cheaper than going to the theater.

Paulius said...

Not to mention copy protection is futile. They bring out something new, and someone cracks it, and writes a program so everyone else can do it with a single click.

Perdita said...

Well, I think you have just proven that video games can make people violent. But I don't think it's the playing of them that will cause it.
I would have thrown a much bigger fit than you seem to have. I hear flamethrowers work quite well on computers.