Pity the problems the poor software vendors and music publishers face in the modern world. Software piracy cannot be stopped, and it can barely be controlled. It's simply too easy to stamp out software or files, and although pirate houses that print thousands of copies can be shut down. The same goes for music piracy.

After my 13-year-old daughter learned that a laptop I was using had a CD burner, it took her about five minutes to figure out how to put her favorite songs on a CD, the kind of things we are supposed to tell everyone not to do with software or magazine articles. That alone illustrates what those who try to protect their intellectual property rights face in the market. So many things lend themselves to piracy—the ubiquity of copying machines, email, the universality of the Web—that software, songs, and editors’ articles end up around the world in the blink of an eye.

Music anti-piracy seems to rest largely on lawsuits. The software anti-piracy effort relies on strict warnings in corporate policy manuals, ads from vendors, and the periodic raids by the software police. But as long as applications remain on easily duplicated media, it’s a formidable challenge. We need to change the paradigm.

This may sound like a walking advertisement for online computing. However, online systems offer greater protection than do CD-based programs. If the code is in the vendor’s hands, the application itself is much more resistant to abuse and unauthorized use. We know this pitch won’t fly with consumers. Surveys show repeatedly they don’t see copying as stealing and few have sympathy for whether Microsoft’s billionaires lose a few bucks here and there.

Online computing, however, should convey benefits that users care about, such as increased protection from malicious software like viruses, worms, and Trojans. Vendors that host their own applications have access to greater protection than do most consumers or any but the largest businesses. Eventually, when users tire of the hacker game, or when they find they are becoming unwilling systems administrators, they may be lured to systems that provide greater safety and simplicity. The subscription model and the ability to house your data elsewhere will continue to erode the fear of handing over data to someone else, although how quickly is still a major question.

As far as Internet sites themselves, they can be locked so that a simple copy command cannot duplicate all content because it can’t view the source code. It can be done. Few sites do so.

So, there are solutions, but they require different ways of thinking about the problems. Meanwhile, maybe I should say something to my daughter about copying music?

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