De Re Piracy

Confessions of a pirate by L. J. Silver



Issue 17

Sep/Oct 85

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This article was received anonymously together with two double sided disks of 'unavailable' software and is completely genuine. It is published to highlight many of the problems that have caused ATARI to have so little software support in this country and in the hope that a few owners will think twice if they are offered illegally copied software. ATARI now has the greatest chance it has ever had to make an impact in the U.K. Will you help or hinder?

Piracy must be eliminated now, or more companies will go down, programming talent will be lost and fewer people will want to enter the software industry if it cannot provide worthwhile employment. Piracy can be stopped, or at least diminished, and in this article I hope to point everyone concerned in the right direction for the long-term good of the industry.

I am a software pirate myself so why am I revealing all this? Well, I am as keen an Atari enthusiast as all of you and I now want Atari to be number one, where it deserves to be. However the parasitic nature of software piracy will never allow our favourite machines to achieve pole position, unless it is destroyed at source. I could just give the names of all the definite pirates I know of (about twenty - some in respectable positions in computer firms) but I won't - I'd be risking more than losing my hardware! If Atari and the software companies want piracy to end then they must do the work after all, they were the main cause.

More than five years ago, when the 400 and 800 were still in their infancy, Atari were charging about 30 or more for rubbish like Asteroids. With the lure of advertising most owners were 'stung' by the extortionate prices, whilst the people at Atari smirked as they reaped in millions. The average Atari owner had only a few programs. Then the battles started with Commodore, Texas Instruments, etc. - they reduced their software prices to below 15 but Atari did nothing, they continued at 30 per game. Many owners became fed up with this. A great many moved to other machines and found they could afford three times as much software. Others discovered they could easily copy their friends' tapes and disks since at that time software protection hardly existed. Atari, and other companies, should have supported their customers and sorted out the problems years ago, but they didn't and deserved to go down, losing customers to Commodore on the way. I am sure the new Atari will have learned something from that incident.

More money was spent on protection techniques but all the while the pirates became more proficient at breaking protection and were now able to copy any software easily. If Atari and the software producers wanted to attract customers to buy their software then they needed to reduce prices of ALL software to below 15, or else justify how they can expect users to pay out half the price of a television licence, but it didn't happen until quite late. The effect of the Atari con-trick was that very few national magazines even mention Atari products, many people prefer inferior machines because they are better supported and small companies go into liquidation. Piracy is just the ordinary man's logical reaction to the greediness of the short-sighted software manufacturers.


Firstly, let's see how a pirate obtains software. There are basically three different types of pirate.

(a) There are those who just receive software for their own use - mainly cassette users - and don't have the technical ability to copy software.

(b) Those who provide software to their friends (myself included). We select software that we or our friends want and then get it from a type (c) pirate. We stock no rubbish - disk space is too valuable, so we have only about 200 programs each. We also have many utilities for copying disks, tapes and ROMs and are all disk drive owners primarily responsible for supplying class (a) pirates.

(c) The copiers and suppliers who distribute to (a) and (b): They all have Archiver chips (or similar) fitted to their drives, enabling them to copy any software. They have every utility available for copying. They have most of the games available for the Atari, not just 200 games, more like 200 disks with up to eight games per side. If they don't have your requested game in their vast disk library then they can get it within a week. The copiers gather at each others' homes (or user group meetings) for massive games transfers.
Pirates can get games that will never be released to the public or games two or three months before official release. All of the following were available about three months before the official U S. release date: Donkey Kong Junior, Millipede, Track and Field, Vanguard, Dimension X, Blue Max 2001, New York City, Quasimodo, Alley Cat, Decathlon, Pitfall II, Zenji, Ballblaster, Rescue at Fractalus, BC's Quest for Tires, Bruce Lee, Spyhunter, Flight Simulator II, Wargames, Frogger II, Stealth, Dropzone, Asylum, Archon II, Ghostbusters, Electrician. Some of the foregoing and many of the following games will probably never be released or have disappeared from the market or turned up for Commodore 64 machines primarily because they have become so widely distributed that the manufacturers do not consider an Atari release worthwhile. You may never see: Pastfinder, Designer's Pencil, Zone Ranger, Last Starfighter, Centipede 16K, Final Legacy, Mario Bros, Atari Soccer, Crystal Castles, Air Support, Mr Do's Castle, Juno First, Up 'n' Down, Adventurewriter, Whistler's Brother. All of these are excellent games and many were obtained from inside Atari and Activision.

If nothing positive is done to combat piracy then it will inevitably continue until no software companies support Atari machines. Then everybody loses. So what can be done? If the software companies really don't know, here are some possible means of bringing the pirates to justice:

The larger companies must together strive for harsher punishments for those who copy and distribute software, e.g removal of all hardware and software with bankrupting penalties.

Private investigators should be employed who can track down pirates all over the country. The best places to look are at many user group meetings, where all sorts of leads can be obtained. Take a look at ads in national magazines which read 'Atari games swap/sell'. From these you can obtain large lists of software - obviously all copies and all at ridiculous prices. Incidentally the magazines themselves must take a great deal of the blame here for providing one of the major outlets for piracy.

Finally take a look at some of the software hire clubs and at certain of the retail shops in nationally known hi-fi retailers.

To prevent piracy in the future, the cost of all software must be reduced to justifiable and affordable prices. The moles inside Atari and Activision must be dug out and prosecuted. Atari games must become more widely available than just through mail order - department stores in my area only stock one or two Atari titles and these are never demonstrated by the computer-ignorant staff. Atari should hold user shows of its own to attract people to buy the new software and advertise effectively to get the message across that ATARI IS BEST!

It will take a lot of teamwork and muscle to beat the pirates. Most importantly, Atari and other producers must try to analyse and understand the needs of the paying public - or they will feel cheated and retaliate by means already experienced by the previous Atari.

My reason for writing is that I can now see hope with the new Atari of a future where Atari is number one. That is if that is what you and I - and ATARI - want. LONG LIVE ATARI!