The Software you own, the Software you don't

The Curious Codex

             16 Votes

2024-07-04 Published
2024-07-04 Updated
1481 Words, 8  Minute Read

The Author
GEN UK Blog

By Richard (Senior Partner)

Richard has been with the firm since 1992 and was one of the founding partners

 

Is it Yours or Theirs?

Most software is 'licensed', and when you pay for it you have a right to use it. You don't actually 'own' it, but the right to use is not limited and you can use it for as long as you want to. For open-source software this is a little different, because some open-source is licensed freely, in that you can do anything you want with it, whilst others are more restrictive prohibiting certain rights such as resale. Regardless, and traditionally, if you spend your hard earned cash on a software application, then you can use it forever.

Maintenance & Upgrades

In the past, software was written once and that's what you purchased. Thinking about 'games' for example, you'd buy that game, and you could play that game as much as you wanted. Likewise, you could buy WordPerfect, and use it as much as you wanted.

However, now days things have changed, and software developers have learned that up-versioning is synonymous with income. When you buy an application or a game today, you get the version you purchased, in the knowledge that another version is right around the corner, with new features that you'll need to 'upgrade' to by paying another fee. This is true right across the board from games to operating systems, and software companies make full use of operating system updates to force customers into that upgrade cycle by keying software to 'only' work on a specific version of Windows or MacOS.

To offset much of the backlash, software companies include a period of 'maintenance' with your purchase, during which you get a 'free' upgrade, but there are always caveats.

Subscription (Rental)

A worrying trend today is the subscription model, in which you own nothing and simply pay to use the software. In this model your cash pays for a right to use, and you never get to buy it, and of course if you stop paying, then its bye bye.

No company is more infamous for this than Adobe, who through their misleading website tie customers into a year's rental, suggesting it's monthly, and there's no easy way out of it. Adobe has been instrumental in bringing about rent-to-use software licensing and all that it brings.

Online Locked

When you do actually manage to buy some software, or rent it, then you may discover that it will only work when it's online, even if there's no other reason for it being online. This is never more true than with games, which today seem to take up the middle ground between rent-to-use and purchase. If you've ever purchased a game for XBOX or Playstation, or even the much hated Steam, then you soon realise, even if it's a local game without any multiplayer features, you can't use it without being online. When you try, you're asked if you purchased it and for that person to 'login'. When XBOX has an outage, which happens fairly routinely, you can't do anything, nothing works and if you take your laptop on holiday to somewhere with poor internet, or if you have poor internet, you will not be able to play any Steam game, that you paid for.

This kind of online 'lock' that prevents you from using software without being online, has two main advantages for the software company; firstly, they get to know who's still using their software, because during its 'online' check, it will no doubt pass the serial number or some other unique identifier, and secondly, they can upload telemetry. For the user, there is only disadvantages to being prevented from using your software without an internet connection.

Specifically XBOX and Playstation, the games you pay big bucks for afford you not even the right to play it, because in the small print, Microsoft or Sony can take that away without any kind of recompense, seriously, that's the deal - Pay for the software, but you can only use it if and when we say so. How the heck did that happen?

Account Privileges: Xbox uses a system of user privileges that control access to various features, including the ability to play certain games. If a user's privileges are revoked or restricted (e.g., due to policy violations), it could prevent them from accessing content they've purchased.

Digital Rights Management (DRM): Although not explicitly mentioned in the search results, Xbox, like many digital platforms, uses DRM to control access to digital content. If there are issues with DRM verification, it could potentially lock users out of their purchased games.

Terms of Service Violations: The Xbox Community Standards and Terms of Service give Microsoft broad authority to restrict or ban accounts for violations. This could potentially result in users losing access to purchased content.

Software Updates: Mandatory system or game updates could potentially introduce issues that prevent users from accessing their games, at least temporarily.

and Sony is just the same, essentially, the money you've paid to the software vendors is not refundable if the console manufacturers decide you're not worthy, and there's no recourse for this, that's it, done.

Legacy

So you've spent a fair amount of money on some software, a game or an application, it doesn't matter, and that game depends on being online for no other reason than for the sake of it, and the software company goes out of business. What happens then? Well, your software will stop working, as it's not able to check, and you're done. This is the real danger here with online locks.

We had a customer recently who was using an old version of Windows, simply because the software they purchased to run their equipment can only run on this old version, and they had a video card fail. Replacing that video card, caused windows to want to 'activate', but of course there are no activation servers online any more, so we are then forced to hack windows to get the customer back up and running, which should never have been needed.

Fighting the Fight

There has to be a honorary mention of the company who are challenging this, GOG (gog.com), who promise a DRM Free version of games, that you pay for, and pay for once, with no online lock, or hidden subscription traps, back to basics, good old Honesty.

Backlash

Some smaller software companies who have switched to subscription, quickly found out that their users were not going to stand for it, and had to switch back, I can think of a few like MacPaw, Cocoatech, Unity, etc, but on the whole customers seem to put up with it and start paying. This is worrying because it only accelerates the migration of software to the subscription model.

Consumer Rights

In the UK, the "UK Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (DMCC)" aims to address these issues by introducing new requirements for subscription contracts, which include:

  • Pre-Contract Information: Businesses must provide clear and prominent information about pricing, automatic renewals, and cancellation rights before consumers enter into a subscription contract.
  • Reminder Notices: Businesses must send reminders to consumers before the end of free trials or before auto-renewals, making it easier for consumers to opt out.
  • Simplified Cancellation: The DMCC mandates that businesses provide a straightforward process for consumers to cancel their subscriptions, including a cooling-off period after auto-renewals.

The proposed changes aim to give consumers more control over their spending and prevent them from being trapped in unwanted subscriptions. This includes extending early cancellation rights and ensuring that consumers can cancel subscriptions without incurring significant penalties. However, as with most things this legislation will only apply to UK companies providing software in the UK, so the likes of Adobe will still be free to trap customers into misleading subscriptions.

Piracy

Piracy has been around almost since the start, but its impact is strongly debated. Companies, for example, generally don't use pirated software leaving this as a consumer activity, whereas consumers will argue that using pirated software simply allows them to use software that they would never be able to afford. Regardless, there has been a significant upwards trend in piracy for subscription software, and online only software simply because users do not want this. I personally know of people who use pirated software that they've paid for simply so they can use it offline or on the road, and that's nuts.

Conclusion

The current trend of rent to use software across the spectrum is not great. In some cases it's driving users to other products, like Adobe users switching to Affinity, but in other cases its driving users who would pay, to pirated versions, increasing risk and reducing revenue. The obvious solution would be in all cases to offer both, you can buy it for X, or rent it for Y, with no adobe like traps and easy migration from one to the other.

This is of course just my opinion, but am I right?


             16 Votes

Comments (2)

wait what · 2024-07-04 18:57 UTC
Hold on, surely theres a law against that if you pay for something then surely no one can take it away right

Andrew Askell · 2024-07-04 13:25 UTC
You are absolutely right! I purchased some software a few years ago, not going to say whatwho but the company went tits up and now the software fails to load saying it cannot check the serial number.

So thanks for that.

--- This content is not legal or financial advice & Solely the opinions of the author ---


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