Adequate notice

By Brett Glass  |  Posted 2003-02-04 Print this article Print

?"> In Intuits case, many of our readers also felt that the copy protection had been foisted on them without adequate notice. The package of our store-bought copy of TurboTax Premier Home and Business contained no warnings about the presence of DRM, other than one sentence, in tiny print, on the spine. This is, in our opinion, inadequate notice of a "feature" that is of such great concern to consumers and is so likely to affect their decision to purchase a product. We noticed a warning at the bottom of the "System Requirements page" (that few people likely read) for the various Turbo Tax versions on Intuits Website stating "The TurboTax program may be installed on a single computer and must be activated by Internet or telephone prior to use." While this is OK, information should also be present in the main FAQ and Product Info sections, given the fact this is a radical change from prior years.
What the DRM Restricts
Intuits DRM isnt a homegrown product; instead, the company licenses a copy protection scheme called SafeCast (formerly known as "C-Dilla") from Macrovision. (Macrovision, sometimes called "Macrovillain" by video buffs, is also responsible for the anti-copying technology used in DVD players and on many VHS tapes.) According to Intuits FAQ -- which ironically cannot be viewed unless ones browser allows the installation of several tracking cookies -- its possible to use the product, in a limited way, without activating it. "If you install TurboTax on another computer without activating it," says Intuit, "you can view or make changes to your tax return -- but you will not be able to print from within the program, electronically file, or save your tax file as a .pdf file from that computer. However, you can transfer the .tax file to an activated computer for printing and/or electronic filing."
As well explain later, our tests showed that these statements are almost -- but not quite -- true. You (or your computer, acting automatically) do have to contact Intuit before the software can be used, even in the mode in which printing and filing are disabled. We also encountered some other situations in which the DRM did not work as claimed -- though, in several of them, it malfunctioned in such a way that we were afforded more, rather than less, access to the software than Intuit intended.

Brett Glass has more than 20 years of experience designing, building,writing about, and crash-testing computer hardware and software. (A born'power user,' he often stresses products beyond their limits simply bytrying to use them.) A consultant, author, and programmer based inLaramie, Wyoming, Brett obtained his Bachelor of Science degree inElectrical Engineering from the Case Institute of Technology and his MSEEfrom Stanford. He plans networks, builds and configures servers, outlinestechnical strategies, designs embedded systems, hacks UNIX, and writeshighly optimized assembly language.

During his rather eclectic career, Brett has written portions of the codeand/or documentation for such widely varied products as Borland's Pascal'toolboxes' and compilers, Living Videotext's ThinkTank, Cisco Systemsrouters and terminal servers, Earthstation diskless workstations, andTexas Instruments' TMS380 Token Ring networking chipset. His articleshave appeared in nearly every major computer industry publication.

When he's not writing, consulting, speaking, or cruising the Web insearch of adventure, he may be playing the Ashbory bass, teachingInternet courses for LARIAT (Laramie's community network and Internetusers' group), cooking up a storm, or enjoying 'extreme'-ly spicy ethnicfood.

To mail Brett, visit his Web form.


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