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Saturday, 3 March 2007

Hard Disk Loading and IP Enforcement

What's "hard disk loading"? A very hard way of loading up a disk?! Well, unfortunately it's a little closer to home than that. Notice every time you purchase a new (and sometimes shiny) computer, it comes with Windows? Well, not just Windows but also lots of nice software. Like DreamWeaver, Microsoft Office, etc. You just need to tell the guy who sold you the computer what you want. "Ah, Tony ah... This one... can give me Windows XP? Or better yet maybe Vista??" And the reply is always "Can!! No problem!!" And of course it's no problem. You got your computer your way with the stuff that you need. And then you surf the Net and you read my blog.

Well, I am here to tell you that "hard disk loading" Google it! -- or the act of copying unlicensed commercial software into computers -- is an offence. Here's a mini quote from The Star Online, Feb 26th 2007:

The enforcement division of the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry is using agents disguised as customers in order to nab unscrupulous computer dealers who offer pirated software via "hard disk loading."

Hard disk loading refers to the act of installing unlicensed software into a PC by copying directly from another computer's hard disk.

source: The Star Online

Section 41(1)(d) of the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987, provides sanction against software piracy by way of a fine of up to RM20,000 and/or a jail term of up to five years for every count of infringing copy of software. One interesting issue: How do you define an "infringing copy"? That would hinge on the word "copy". And if "copy" is defined properly, it includes an "installation" -- but that word ("installation") seems to be missing from the statute. Section 27(2) of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act defines "infringing copy"Google it! as follows:

An article is an infringing copy if its making constituted
an infringement of the copyright in the work in question.


One interesting nugget that I gleaned from this particular news article is that trapping of software pirates themselves are prohibited. It is up to the vendor himself to offer the pirated "goods". Also interesting is that it is "difficult" to arrest end-users found at such stores. That would explain why the authorities would "advise" the end user and ask him to be their witness.


Here's something interesting. Whereas the recent news announced that computer traders have been recently caught for hard disk loading, a not-so-recent article in New Straits Times brazenly blared: "Bukit Bintang Declared Zero-Piracy Zone". [link] [link2] You will note that the cached copy of the article (link2) states that "82 shops trading in illegal optic discs at the shopping complexes have now been turned into outlets selling shoes and apparels." We need to think: How did these shops get "turned into" something which they were not in the first place? Just like a computer virus, there must be an author behind those actions. Some other interesting factoids found in the press statement of Ahmad Dahuri Mahmud:

There were 17 cases of copyright infringements in 2005 with seizures of software and hardware, valued at RM99 million.

The number of cases increased to 21 last year, involving 172 units of hardware, valued at RM516,000, and 228,000 copies of software, worth RM23 million.

Two observations. First, of the 17 cases in 2005, none of them passed through my hands. But there was another case which if it had gone to court, would have pushed the number to 18. Second, there were 21 cases in 2006 and only 17 cases in 2005. The value of disputed items in 2005 was valued at RM99 million.... while in 2006, the seized items only amounted to a value of RM23.5 million. That shows a great drop in value. Who evaluates these things, anyway? IP valuation is time consuming and very pricey. Personally, I believe that the figure of RM99 million was the result of some creative individuals who believed in the value of suing for a high sum.


Hard disk loading -- how is the average computer trader supposed to sell computers without losing his client? Granted, all computers are created equal. But the clients who buy computers pre-loaded with pirated software are usually those who cannot afford licensed software. These would include teenagers and those from the senior community. Their requirement is "anything will do lah, as long as the computer boleh jalan." And the solution is probably something to do with the fact that those pushing for enforcement against hard disk loaders are the big names: in short, Microsoft et al [link].

In recent years therefore there has been a shift toward open source. The open source softwares are constantly updated and bugs ironed out. On the minus side is that the open source movement in reality is ironically powered by many programmers who work for big name proprietary software companies. But that is missing the point that in purchasing the computer, you seek usability. If you were planning to buy a new computer, I would advise you to get it preloaded with ReactOS and Open Office. Of the two, I am currently using Open Office, and I am planning to install ReactOS on my new computer. But for the meantime, I shall stick to my (licensed) copy of Windows XP.
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