CDRWin Vigilantism

Something that I have been wanting to complain about for a long time is CDRWin from Golden Hawk. Back in the days when CDs were still common (and most piracy was with CDs), burning CD images to blank CDs was a task that some people did often. There were plenty of programs and image formats, but CDRWin was a popular one that worked fairly well, at least that is, until version 4.0.

To deter piracy (which is of course a Sisyphean endeavor), Golden Hawk chose not to increase the complexity of their licensing system, but rather, to play vigilante and sabotage users’ system when they suspected an attempt at piracy.

What happened was CDRWin basically had three modes of operation:

  • Unregistered/evaluation
  • Registered
  • Vigilante

When you enter a serial-number/key to register CDRWin, if the key is invalid, then it will complain and remain in evaluation mode. However, if the key is valid, then it may accept the key and say thank you and display a Registered stamp in the titlebar and About dialog, but secretly be in vigilante mode whereby it pretends to be registered and appears to be in all manner, except that whenever you burn a disc, it corrupts it, resulting in a “coaster”.

This is unacceptable for several reasons

  1. The method that it uses to detect if the key was created using a “key generator” instead of from Golden Hawk themselves seems to be flawed because legitimate customers were incorrectly affected.
  2. The surreptitious nature of the anti-piracy tactic (it gives not warning whatsoever) prevented identifying the problem and made it look like the software is simply buggy, thus damaging the developer’s general reputation (imagine that, reviews from pirates having a big impact on sales!)
  3. This is essentially vigilante behavior, not anti-piracy techniques. If vigilantism is illegal in the real world, why would it be acceptable in the digital one?
  4. The sabotage it does is actively harmful to the user. By corrupting (apparently all) discs that are burned with the software, they are causing the user to have to throw them out because they are now useless. Would it be any more acceptable if the software were designed to fry a user’s CPU, burn out their monitor, or print hundreds of pages of solid black/color with their printer to waste their ink cartridges? Of course not! Wasting blank CDs isn’t any more acceptable.

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