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Double-0 Norman

You never know who’s spying on you.

I was in the kitchen one Sunday morning making my wife breakfast when the doorbell rang. I was in such good spirits that I answered it. I shouldn’t have. It was my neighbor Norman. You remember Norman, don’t you? President, CTO, and First Receptionist at SoftPopDotCom.com.

“Hi, Lincoln,” he said as he barged in. “Have you seen my latest and greatest program, PopWeasel 3.4? It plays MP3 files, backs up your system files, and lets you view over a hundred different file types, including .txt, .bat, .log… PopWeasel 3.4 is different from any other program we’ve ever done. You know there never was a PopWeasel 3.3. Or even a 1.0. But you see, PopWeasel 3.4 will–now get this–make us a profit!”

“That is new,” I had to admit. “How?”

“Simple. We’ll give it away.”

I sighed. “You know that theory has been discredited?”

That didn’t bother Norman. “People will download and install PopWeasel like digital pancakes! And then the money will come pouring in.”

“From where?”

“Is your computer where it’s always been?” he asked as he disappeared into my study. “OK,” he said proudly, “now you can listen to MP3s and view your text files.”

“Norman, I have other programs that can do those things.”

“Not anymore! But that’s just the window-dressing. The best thing about PopWeasel is the special module that operates quietly in the background, recording everything you do. The information goes back to my server, where I can sell it to the highest bidder. Well, OK, not just the highest bidder. I sell it to anyone who’s willing to pay for it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “You installed spyware on my PC?”

“Technically, no. It says right there in paragraph 837 of the licensing agreement–which you consented to when I pressed the ‘I Agree’ button–that you are not allowed to use that word in reference to PopWeasel. Right now I could make a legal action against you.”

“If you don’t take that program off of my computer right now, I’m going to take a less legal but far more satisfying action against you!”

He glanced at the microphone mounted over my monitor. “Did I tell you that we record anything you say near your computer? Marketers love that sort of stuff.”

I put down the lead pipe I hadn’t realized I was clutching. “Could you please remove that software?”

“You know, I’ve done some really ingenious work here. For instance, to relieve pressure on my server, PopWeasel borrows from every computer on which the program is installed. By the way, I’d avoid graphic-heavy applications; they’re real slow on a PopWeasel-equipped system.”

I controlled my temper. “Is there any way I can make this a PopWeasel-unequipped system?”

“Of course. You can always uninstall it. That will remove all of PopWeasel’s fine features. Well, most of them; the uninstall doesn’t remove our ability to track your computer use. In fact, paragraph 384 of the licensing agreement states that trying to remove PopWeasel grants us legal permission to come into your home and beat you with baseball bats.”

“And you’d do that?”

“Anything to protect our copyrights.”

“Copyrights? What do copyrights have to do with it?”

“Haven’t you heard of the upcoming Protect Our Freedom and Fight Terrorism by Letting SoftPopDotCom.com Copyright Everything bill? Not only will it grant SoftPopDotCom.com the copyright on the English language, but it makes it a felony to violate the licensing agreement on any SoftPopDotCom.com program, punishable by executives with baseball bats.”

“And do you think this will pass?”

“It had better pass! I’ve already spent 12 bucks on campaign contributions.”

“Norman, I think you’d better kiss those 12 bucks goodbye. And speaking of goodbye…”

“This new law is really something. All sorts of wonderful rules and regulations to protect SoftPopDotCom.com’s intellectual property.” I was stunned. I never thought I’d hear the words SoftPopDotCom.com and intellectual property in the same sentence.

“It just goes to show,” Norman continued, “how good the government can be when it allows industry to regulate itself.”

“Norman, why don’t you just regulate yourself out of my house?”

“But the law is designed to prevent illegal copying. It will make it a crime to post our code on the Internet without authorization. It will outlaw making backup copies. It will even forbid copying SoftPopDotCom.com’s software onto your hard drive.”

“Norman,” I said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. I’m for anything that will keep your software off of people’s computers.”

Norman thought about it. “You know, I think I’d better check the fine print on that one. Excuse me; I gotta go.”

By the time I got back to the bedroom, my wife was just about dressed. “Gotta go,” she said. “It’s time to pick up the kids.”

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