The dark side of licensing

Gemalto’s Jake Fox links the challenges of intellectual property theft and software licensing with Star Wars

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The dark side of licensing Jake Fox, vice-president of product development, R&D software monetization, Gemalto.
By  Jake Fox Published  August 9, 2016

The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has got me thinking about the duality of good and evil. As the epic battle between Jedi warriors and the Sith continues to unfold in a galaxy far, far away, there is another battle being waged much closer to home. A battle so epic, it threatens the very way we consume content.

Of course, I am talking about the fight against intellectual property (IP) theft; that never-ending game of cat and mouse between content owner, and hacker that keeps the entertainment industry up at night. As Gemalto’s VP of product development, R&D software monetisation, I feel compelled to raise my lightsaber in support of all the content creators.

Growing up, I was a stereotypical kid who aspired to the American Dream — and I wasn’t about to let my lack of business experience stand in my way. In junior high, before I was old enough to know better, I dabbled in basic software hacking.

I remember hacking a bunch of science programmes so that my teacher — who couldn’t afford to purchase software licenses — could install them on the school’s computers for free. Sure, this earned me some extra credit and the respect of my teacher, but, ironically, it planted the seeds of a deeper appreciation for software licensing.

Flash forward several years to 2005. I was working for a small start-up that provided anti-piracy technology to companies in the motion picture, music, publishing, and software industries. While we understood that it’s never possible to completely stop consumers from pirating copyrighted content, our aim was to frustrate their efforts long enough to save the copyright owners greater financial loss.

On one occasion, we were performing a routine search for early leaks of our customers’ content, when we discovered a serious breach: the latest Star Wars movie, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, had gotten out two weeks ahead of its scheduled release. I recall receiving a phone call one Friday evening from a colleague who broke the news to me. “We have Star Wars! And we know who leaked it! What do we do?” There was no question that I needed to notify the studio immediately, even if it meant assisting the FBI with a lengthy investigation.

As an avid fan of the series, however, this put me in a difficult position. On the one hand, I had really been looking forward to seeing the movie in the theatre, while on the other, watching it right there and then in my living room, at the insistence of my three boys, was awfully tempting. Like The Force, my desire for free and unlimited access to content was strong — but so, too, was my appreciation for the creativity and years of hard work that goes into producing something like Star Wars.

An epic battle of good versus evil, worthy of George Lucas himself, played out inside my head. Ultimately good won, as I decided against watching the pirated copy and instead took my boys to the theatre for the full cinematic experience.

Coming that close to the Dark Side — along with my passion for Star Wars — solidified my belief that the owners of such creative works deserve to be fairly compensated. To quote Han Solo in the original Star Wars movie, “I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money”. That’s not to say most content creators don’t do it for the love of their craft, but there’s no denying the commercial aspect is part and parcel of it.

That same year, the start-up was bought out by licensing bigwigs SafeNet, propelling me into a decade-long relationship with software monetisation. At the time, I was far from what you’d call a licensing expert, but I did know a thing or two about helping businesses make money. On balance, that’s probably why I enjoy working with customers and driving our business ever forward. One thing I’ve noticed is that customers trying to solve problems on a tactical level tend to miss the bigger picture.

It’s my job to help them view licensing from a strategic perspective; in terms of how they can protect and optimise their revenue, but also to maximise the value they offer the end-user. It’s only when these value statements line up that customers can derive the most benefit from a partnership with us.

There are technologies that secure applications by “wrapping” a protective layer around the source code, safeguarding it from reverse engineering and tampering (aka the forces of evil). Having this additional layer of protection ensures that their algorithms, trade secrets, and professional know-how are kept safe from hackers, which is not an easy thing for our customers to do on their own.

Having come full circle since my days as a naïve young hacker, it’s clear to me why I chose to tread the software licensing path and why it still holds fascination for me all these years later. It might not be glamorous work, and hackers may curse our name, but when you consider that IP theft costs businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year and robs the global economy of jobs and tax revenues, it kind of validates everything we at Gemalto do. That and the warm, fuzzy feeling we get from helping our customers maximise their profitability and become true Jedis of the software space.

Jake Fox, vice-president of product development, R&D Software monetisation, Gemalto.

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