Microsoft's global anti-user day
Yesterday, Microsoft announced something they called "Global Anti-Piracy Day".
Software companies like Microsoft often refer to copying they don't approve of as "piracy." They suggest that such copying is ethically equivalent to murder and robbery. Even these far-fetched analogies are not enough for Microsoft, who in their press release yesterday updated the comparison to draw a connection between such copying and organized crime: "There is growing evidence that highly organized, transnational criminal organizations and networks are involved in the counterfeiting of software..."
Even the US Senate, while recently considering legislation addressing unauthorized copying, had the sense to strike the term "piracy" from its text. You know the term is over-the-top when people receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry still feel shy about using it.
But Microsoft has no such shame. These claims about organized crime syndicates are an exaggerated threat designed to garner public and government acceptance of the onerous restrictions that Microsoft places on each and every one of its users. Even if they are correct that criminals copy Windows, this means nothing. Criminals will sell or steal whatever they can to raise money for their activities -- the idea that schoolchildren, for example, should be restricted in ways that severely impair their education and freedom so that criminals will have a harder time copying Windows is laughable.
Microsoft even claims that "anti-piracy" methods like "Windows Genuine Advantage" protect customers and users. Actually, the licenses for Windows software threaten those users with legal action should they attempt to study how the software works, share it with a friend, or make improvements to it on their own. Proprietary software like this is thoroughly anti-user, and is about maximizing control for Microsoft at the expense of security and freedom for users. Don't forget the fact that Windows Genuine Advantage notoriously makes mistakes, crippling even legal copies of Windows by putting them in "Reduced Functionality Mode". The whole arrangement is like the "Software Protection Authority" darkly described in Richard Stallman's "Right to Read".
They are even offering an "anti-piracy hotline" at (800) RU-LEGIT where people can call and report receiving suspicious software. But what's the definition of suspicious software? It sure seems like software that insists you click OK on a contract giving someone other than you full rights to access and manipulate all of the information on your computer before you have permission to use it -- like Microsoft's own -- is suspicious.
But rather than call the hotline, there are a few more productive things you can do to show your opposition to "Anti-Piracy Day".
First, it's best to not bother copying Windows, illegally or otherwise -- use free software instead. Try out a fully free distribution of GNU/Linux. Indicate your interest in free software by creating a user page on the FSF Groups wiki.
Second, let your representatives in government know your stance. Unfortunately Microsoft isn't the only group pushing this kind of propaganda lately. On October 13th, President Bush signed a bill misleadingly called PRO-IP into law that, among other nasty provisions, funds the production of exactly this kind of material to be distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies with taxpayer dollars. You can make a statement against overzealous copyright enforcement and in favor of freedom and sharing by writing to your Senator and your representatives.