— March 2003
By Ben Ellison
Looking around at electronic charts and charting programs, I see that a lot use some sort of software copy protection, even hardware "dongles" [individually coded devices which must be kept attached to your printer or USB port for certain programs or charts to operate]. Should I be concerned? S.P., via e-mail
Yes, you should. Were I collecting, I'd have a wig's worth of hair pulled out on account of difficult-to-get-working "protection" systems. No doubt I've undertaken an unusual number of installs in the course of my work--and I have certainly experienced painless copy protection--but generally speaking, any scheme designed to limit file or program use involves intricacies within your PC that are best left undisturbed.
Not that I blame the manufacturers for this situation. Illegal copying of programs, and digital charts in particular, is rampant. It's one of the big issues now facing vector chart companies as they adapt themselves to PCs and PDAs--how to protect their work as it moves from proprietary plotter cartridges to standard CDs and memory cards. The problem is especially acute in the United States, where some boaters have deluded themselves into thinking that our government's gracious lack of copyright on paper charts should also apply to electronic media.
What they ignore is that, unlike paper, electronic material is so easy to copy perfectly that no company could produce decent CDs of charts and survive if we were truly free to duplicate them for gifts or trade. That's why NOAA permitted copyrighting of digital raster charts. Still, the practice goes on, which is why more complicated protection, common in foreign products, may be coming our way soon. This is why we should be intolerant of digital pirates.--B.E.
Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: PMYElectronics@primediamags.com. No phone calls please.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.