Amiga Software - Piracy


Because the Amiga was one of the first game oriented computers to feature a built-in floppy disk drive, which allowed for easy copying, it was also the scene of much software piracy. Many of the arguments pertaining to software piracy, intellectual property rights in software, the open-source movement, and so on, were well-developed in the Amiga scene by the early 1990s. It was not unusual for a demo group to be openly involved in software piracy.

Several anti-piracy measures were introduced during the Amiga's reign. One was the practise of distributing software on disks that contained secret "keys" on high-numbered tracks, which were officially unused. The Amiga disk drive officially only read tracks 0-79 from a double-density disk, but in reality it could easily read tracks 80 through 82. Official disk-imaging software would ignore these tracks, so that a duplicate of a boxed disk would not contain the key and the software would not work. A similar technique involved writing to sectors of the disk that would not normally be used. However, special copy software called "nibble" copiers appeared, which could exactly reproduce any disk an Amiga could read.

Publishers therefore turned to other methods. Hardware dongles were occasionally used for high-end software. An example would be AmigaHASP, used to protect Rashumon and was sold by HarmonySoft to Aladdin Systems. Some software manufacturers would force a user to type a word from a particular page number and line number of the manual, meaning that successfully pirating software included photocopying a large quantity of text. Sometimes the text from which the key was chosen was designed so that photocopiers would produce illegible copies, meaning that pirates had to retype or handwrite the text, or else give up.

These and other schemes lead to pirates "cracking" software by altering a copy of the code bypassing the copy protection completely. There was not a protection scheme that was not eventually broken. One almost exception was the scheme on the Amiga version of Dragon's Lair which became the holy grail of crackers Worldwide. Eventually it was released in a modified format that circumvented the copy protection.

Piracy has been cited as a reason for the death of the Amiga, however, piracy was just as prolific on other platforms. For example many games for the ZX Spectrum could be copied using nothing more than an ordinary cassette recorder, leading to a massive culture of playground game trading - that machine however lived a long and fruitful life nonetheless. The same happened with C64 again with cassettes, or with PC software copied on floppy disks by organized piracy, or finally, in more recent ages, it happened with PlayStation I and the enormous success it had due to the diffusion of pirated CD games even diffused as ISO images on early pirate sites on internet together with PC software. There was a vast amount of Amiga software available in the marketplace and Commodore's mis-marketing of the machine is well documented as the reason for its own demise.

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