September 19, 2020

Bricklin: Copy Protection Robs the Future

Dan Bricklin explains how copy restriction technology frustrates archiving of historically interesting works. Archivists normally preserve works by copying them; so works that can’t be copied may never be archived.

Bricklin tells a sobering story about his attempts to recover an original copy of VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet program, of which Bricklin himself was the primary author). Due to copy restriction technology, he was unable to recover a version himself. Ultimately he found that an ex-employee had kept a (probably unauthorized) unprotected copy, so he was able to recover the program and archive it. VisiCalc is only about twenty years old, and was one of the most popular computer programs of its time. An older or less popular work might well have been lost forever.