Details: Technological, Cultural, and Privacy issues

While the raw copying of the information on any token can never be halted, the validity of sales, resales, and installations of licenses, through software brokers and electronic secondary markets, like and, can be fully policed! Online trading of securities is quite cheap and only getting cheaper. Only if you own a license can you install and run the software.  And since the license is not enforced by merely possessing a copy of the information or getting it on the right media-token, the de-installation, and reinstallation surrounding a sale can be brokered through cryptographic means over the Internet. The information itself, in various incarnations and releases, can be "superdistributed".

Just because someone made you a copy of a CD, doesn’t mean you can both use it at the same time. However, imagine a protocol when your friend stopped using the program, his computer could send a signal  to your computer, enabling your computer to run the program. When you stopped, your computer would send a signal to enable his. Since computers aren't on line all the time, these messages would have to go through a broker process.

This is the Floating License, which flourishes under Unix, but which microsoft tried and is trying to stamp out.. Your company buys a finite number, n,  of simultaneously usable licenses, which are checked out and in from a license server, and "float" to different workstations. Even if the software is installed on all machines,  only n copies can be run simultaneously.  As demand goes up, conflicts over use of the limited resource ensue, and more licenses are purchased. 

This proposal is for a global floating license scheme guaranteed by cheap internet brokerage houses. Large groups of floating licenses can be installed inside institutions or trusted nations.

The technology which  would allow you to view the same licenses on different machines at different times is not rocket science.  All the technology being developed to "sell" software over the internet, called Electronic Software Distribution (ESD), for example, by Techwave, Preview, and Kagi have half of it.  The solutions being proposed for distributing information objects by and others have the right crypto technology, but often are designed only from the POV of publishers, to enforce demands for rent, not to allow ownership and legal trade.  Not to allow you to float the same license between your home computer and your laptop. You are still  a software pirate if you do that, or if copying a CD to cassette lets both you and your spouse to play it simultaneously at home in in a car.

It is a small step from a floating license broker to a license transfer broker. Rather than floating the license between your home computer and your car computer, to sell a license you would be forfeiting your right to run it, and the ownership registration would change. 

The social price for permanent licenses is thus owner registration and brokered exchange. This works for other durable goods, like cars, and stocks. In software, owner registration raises many privacy issues.  The key for consumer privacy, which separates this proposal from, for example, Microsoft's  uploading of your hard disk directory when you sign on to MSN, is the registration is not with the company, but with brokers, whose reputations depend on maintaining client confidentiality.  Software Companies only have to know that the long term
value of their reserved infoprops are not being subjected to non-genuine destabilization.

The myth of the software industry is that consumers hate copy-protection or keys or dongles or those Lotus floppies which had to be in the drive to start the program. Will consumers accept registration? Actually there will no longer be consumers, just Licensees. People will have to re-learn that a  PURL  to an Infoprop is a durable item rather than a comestible! Some re-education will be necessary to counter the years of "upgrade" fever. Since upgrades are free, the PURL continues its existence into the indefinite future, even as media tokens, file formats and interoperability protocols change.

The software industry has long recognized that the  license survives the medium. So when 3.5" tokens replaced 5.25" tokens, you could exchange disks for a small handling fee. If you crack a software CD and hold a valid licence, you can get it replaced for a handling fee. So, if you owned a "vinyl-enforced music license," you should have been able to upgrade to a CD-enforced license at much lower cost than "retail" by exchanging the vinyl, since you already purchased the permanent license.  It was an amazing consumer rip-off that shouldn’t happen again in the media morph from VHS to DVD, or from books to electronic-read-licenses. 

The use of patches and service releases on the net demonstrates that the license survives the specific incarnation or release.  It is only when they need more money that some software companies decide the same old set of patches is a "new product."  So, just as a stock share survives the company’s changes in employees, locations, products, and value, a PURL will survive changes in media (e.g. from 5.25 to 3.5 to CD-ROM to ESD), and incremental changes - e.g. service releases and name changes - in the information licensed. 

Licenses can be numbered with Binary strings. The first 1024 copies have 10 bit serial numbers. Every time the stock is doubled, another bit is added, and when old shorter licenses are placed on the market, it is easy to discover they have been multiplied 8 or 16 times.

Thus, permanent licenses become the next digital currency. There are many systems in operation and under development for digital currencies and serialized objects.  The difficult problem for digital cash - anonymity - is not a problem for publically traded serialized PURLs.

 Copyright © 1999 J. B. Pollack