Crack Killer combats software piracy

It doesn’t incite actual violence, but a piece of freeware from the Trialware Professional Association (TPA) may turn Canadian software developers into IT vigilantes.

Crack Killer 1.0, released last week, allows developers

to track and report cracks, posted serial numbers and pirated versions of their software, according to TPA president Mike Fullerton.

Developers record Web sites with links to pirated versions and cracks of their software in the database application, which features SMTP e-mail complaint capabilities for informing ISPs that host the offending sites, and an IP address check function that allows developers to track those sites for reactivation or relocation.

“”When an ISP kills a site, the person can take that domain to another ISP,”” Fullerton said. By tracking both the site’s domain and its IP address, developers can see if their wares are being offered up for free somewhere else on the Web.

Much of the piracy occurs on demonstration downloads software developers offer over the Internet as a means of marketing products for sale, Fullerton said. The piracy inspired the Crack Killer project, launched last year by the Calgary-based TPA. The project included the creation of a database, which has since been beefed up with new features for the official freeware release. Fullerton said the TPA has plans to eventually enable Crack Killer users to share data over with each other over the Internet.

There are currently 290 members worldwide in the TPA, formed two years ago to empower developers to police circulation of their own products. “”If developers don’t do it, nobody else will,”” according to Fullerton. He said large industry organizations seem unconcerned with the plight of the kind of independent software developers that belong to the TPA.

“”Initially, when we started out, we tried to get them to help us, but most of the organizations didn’t seem to interested,”” Fullerton said. “”My opinion is they’re more interested in helping out the larger companies.””

Not so, according to Allan Steel, president of the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST), which tries to stem piracy of business software by educating consumers about the realities of piracy and by providing legal assistance to member firms like Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Corp.

“”We represent the Canadian software publishers in Canada, smaller ones and larger ones.”” Steel said, adding he was unsure about how smaller software developers, compared to larger counterparts, are affected by piracy, which last year cost the Canadian economy $457 million. “”We’re looking at the whole issue of shrink-wrapped software.””

Steel said CAAST’s mandate does not extend to developers of home and gaming software or to custom applications.

“”That is one of the issues that do come up,”” he said. “”When you get into building applications on top of software who owns it, who has the intellectual property?””

Though Fullerton’s own company, CyberMatrix Corp. Inc., does offer custom as well as one-size-fits-all applications, he said most TPA members are not in the custom business. He noted that TPA members’ software does differ from that of CAAST members in distribution method. TPA members sell their software over the Internet instead of in shrink-wrapped boxes.

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