Managing iLok Plug-in Licences

Technique

Published in SOS November 2005
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Technique : Pro Tools Notes

There can't be many Pro Tools users left who haven't had to invest in an iLok key in order to run their favourite plug-ins. But did you know that you can insure, transfer and even buy and sell iLok plug-in licences electronically?

Mike Thornton

iLok header.EPS.s

Plug-ins are one of the elements that make Pro Tools so versatile, and since Digidesign opened their TDM, RTAS and Audiosuite protocols up to third-party developers, we now have an enormous range to choose from. However, plug-ins have always been susceptible to unauthorised copying, and software manufacturers and developers have felt the need to protect their investments by copy-protecting them. First it was those dreaded floppy key disks that became unreadable just at the wrong time — and when manufacturers recognised this and gave you a spare floppy key disk, they found that users installed another copy of the software on a second system and used the spare key for that! Next we had, and still have, authorisations that are computer- or drive-specific, which mean that plug-ins are only available to use on a specific computer, or you have to carry around a separate hard drive just to make your plug-in authorisations portable.

What was needed was a more portable key that would enable the user to work with their plug-ins on whichever machine they were in front of, whether then owned it or not. This has become more and more crucial as the Pro Tools Session format replaced the two-inch tape as arguably the universal format for moving recording sessions about the world. Recognising this requirement, PACE Anti-Piracy went back to the drawing board and developed the iLok. An iLok is a small key-shaped 'dongle' which you can plug into any USB port on a computer. The plug-in software checks for its presence, and if the iLok is detected and contains the correct authorisation, permits you to use that plug-in on that system. Take the iLok away and the software is no longer authorised and won't function.

This makes the iLok a very valuable item as, in effect, it is worth the combined value of all the software plug-ins that are authorised on it — and each iLok can store up to 100 authorisations. It is also small, which makes it very easy to lose or steal.

To assist software manufacturers and developers, PACE set up a 'central clearing house' and management web site called iLok.com (below). This site enables the manufacturers and developers (who PACE call Vendors) to 'deposit' licences (sometimes called 'assets') into users' accounts. The user is then able to download these onto their iLok. The web site also enables users to 'synchronise' their iLoks with ilok.com for users to upload licence details from the licence cards that some Vendors supply, for example, with retail products.

PACE have also introduced a number of additional licence-management features aimed at helping us the end user to manage our iLok authorisations (for free) and protect our valuable iLoks (for a fee!) and it is these features we are going to look at in this workshop.

Transferring Licences

You can transfer licences between different iLoks. This service is free for any iLoks you own within one account on iLok.com. However, you can also transfer licences from one iLok to another on different accounts for a fee of $25 per licence, which enables you to buy plug-in licences 'second-hand'.

"Moving licences from iLok to iLok within a single account is free," says Andrew Kirk, Vice President of PACE Anti-Piracy. "This was the most demanded feature from user groups. A lot of people have two or more iLoks that they've collected over the years, going back to their Mix systems. Now they can combine those multiple licences onto one iLok, or organise their plug-ins on different iLoks as needed."

* To transfer within an account (free)

iLok 2
The iLok.com web site allows you to audit your plug-in licences and transfer them between multiple iLok keys.
The iLok.com web site allows you to audit your plug-in licences and transfer them between multiple iLok keys.
The iLok.com web site allows you to audit your plug-in licences and transfer them between multiple iLok keys.

To transfer licences between your own iLoks, first make sure your iLoks are plugged in to USB ports on your computer and then log into your account on iLok.com and choose the Transfer Licenses option. You will then need to synchronise your iLoks to make sure the data held on iLok.com matches what is on your iLoks. This will also tell you which licences are on which iLok. Make sure you don't remove your iLoks from the computer at this point. Then choose the source iLok and which licences you wish to move, select the destination iLok from the simple step-by-step instructions and its done. I used this recently to rearrange my iLok licences so that for certain types of work away from my studio I only need to take one iLok with me now.

Be aware, though, that you can run into problems synchronising and transferring licences if you're connecting to iLok.com from behind a proxy server or firewall, which will be the case for many corporate and educational users. If you do run into the dreaded "unexpected authorization error 411", your only option is to find another machine that's connected to the Internet in a different way.

* To transfer between different accounts ($25)

Transferring licences between different accounts (also known as transfer of ownership) is a very similar process to transferring within your own account and is great if you want to buy and sell any plug-ins from other users. It is handled securely by iLok.com, but be aware that this type of transfer is not free and iLok.com will charge you $25 per licence to transfer ownership. So, for example, if you bought an upgrade with one the Massive Pack deals and you found you already owned some of the plug-ins in the bundle, you could sell the duplicates to a friend — if the Vendor makes it possible. Andrew Kirk explains: "Some vendors [software publishers] allow for iLok-to-iLok transfer within an account, and some don't; however, iLok.com will tell you if they don't. Also, some companies don't allow any transfer of licences at all. This is based upon each software publisher's business policies."

So it is worth checking with a software publisher before you try to buy or sell a plug-in, in case they do not allow transfers and you end up buying a plug-in you can't transfer onto your own iLok! It is up to the individual software publishers to determine what transfers they will permit under the terms of their licence to you as the end user, but of course you all read and are fully conversant with the terms and conditions of each software licence... after all, nobody would consider just clicking OK to the 'Have you read the term and conditions' tick box without studying them in detail, would they?

Another factor to be aware of is that although iLok.com will email the Vendor to inform them of the licence transfer, the software manufacturer won't necessarily provide support for transferred plug-ins: as before, it is the choice of the software manufacturer, and PACE are bound by the individual Vendors' policies.

Buying An iLok

You can buy blank iLoks direct from PACE via the Buy section of iLok.com, or from Digidesign and their dealers. Additionally, Sonic Distribution are official distributors in Europe, and you can buy iLoks from their site at www.sonic-distribution.com. As well as iLoks themselves, PACE also sell a short USB extension cable they call a Dongle Buddy. Like any other hardware device, the iLok is susceptible to damage, and PACE found that a lot of the iLoks that had failed had been broken by for example, moving the computer too close to the wall or dropping something onto the keyboard. By taking the tension off the iLok, the Dongle Buddy helps to protect it from accidental damage. It has to be said, though, that the vast majority of iLoks work without any problem, and if you suspect your iLok is starting to fail, you can be pre-emptive and buy a new one before transferring the licences across for free, with no down time!

Zero Down Time

PACE also offer a Zero Down Time package that is designed to get you back up as soon as possible after an iLok loss or failure. You should note that it is something you must sign up for before you lose your iLok, and it is a paid upgrade service available from iLok.com. With ZDT you can be back up within 15 to 20 minutes, but without it, it could be several weeks before you finally get sorted.

ZDT is a kind of insurance policy and costs $30 per iLok per year or until the service is used. To use it, log into your account on the iLok.com site and follow the RMA (Return Merchandise Authorisation) procedure. The site will automatically deposit two-week temporary licences for all your covered plug-ins into your iLok account. You then use the site to download those temporary licences in the normal way onto a spare iLok and you are back in business.

iLok 3
iLok 4
Before you can transfer any plug-in licences, your iLoks must be 'synchronised'.
Before you can transfer any plug-in licences, your iLoks must be 'synchronised'.
Before you can transfer any plug-in licences, your iLoks must be 'synchronised'.

Now, as instructed, send the damaged iLok to PACE immediately. Once they have analysed it and validated it, they will put replacement full unlimited licences into your account for you to download before the temporary licences expire. As this process can take up to two weeks it is vitally important to get the damaged iLok off to them ASAP! Otherwise you will end up without cover, as the temporary licences will have run out and PACE won't have validated the damaged iLok to enable them to supply you with replacement licences. The damaged iLok has to go back to PACE in the USA, so it can take some time for them to receive and analyse it, and PACE are not legally permitted by the Vendors to replace the licences without having done this. If your iLok is found to be damaged beyond repair or recognition so that PACE are unable to validate what licences are held on it, you will need to claim from your insurance company for the loss.

If you aren't covered by ZDT then you can still use the iLok RMA procedure and send them the broken iLok, but you will be without your plug-ins until PACE have received your damaged iLok and validated it. That could be up to two weeks or so, as ZDT iLoks will take priority! Also note that PACE will only replace the iLok free of charge if it just stopped working and was found to be defective under their warranty terms. If was damaged by force (and this includes accidental damage) then you will need to buy a new iLok too.

If you are covered by ZDT and your iLok gets lost or stolen then PACE will still provide you with a set of two-week temporary licences. However they won't be able to supply you with replacement full licences as there is no iLok to analyse to prove what was really on it. Under these circumstances you will need to contact each software manufacturer and plead your case with each one, as they have different policies on replacing lost licences. Obviously you will also need a new iLok, too, but that will probably be the least of your worries.

PACE and iLok.com operate a seven-day period of grace from the day when you take out ZDT to the day when they will provide temporary licences. This is to prevent you trying to subscribe to the service 'after the event'. However PACE haven't missed a trick, and if you are caught without ZDT you can bypass the seven-day grace period by paying an expediency fee of $100!

There are a small number of software developers who are not fully involved with ZDT: Waves, DUY Research, Grey Matter Response Inc and Audio Ease. Even if you have ZDT, you will still need to deal directly with these manufacturers if you lose or damage an iLok containing an authorisation for one of their plug-ins. Consequently, you should consider having these manufacturers' plug-in licences on a different iLok, as if a problem arises, you may need to send the appropriate iLok to the appropriate Vendor rather than to PACE. These Vendors all have the ability to provide temporary licences to you but you will need to deal with each one separately.

Waves state in their FAQ that they won't reissue replacement licences for a lost or stolen iLok and that you should insure against its loss: don't forget to arrange cover for the value of all the software authorised on it and not just the value of the iLok itself! As for defective or damaged iLoks, Waves advise you to follow the iLok.com RMA procedure. Then contact Waves Tech Support (using the Tech Support link in your Waves account), and send them your email correspondence with PACE to confirm the return of the defective iLok key. Make sure to include the old iLok key serial number and the RMA number in the email, and once PACE have validated the damaged iLok, Waves will 'reset your account'.

Don't Shoot The Messenger!

PACE have had a rough ride in some quarters over the years, but in my opinion it is mostly not their fault. If we where all nice honourable people, software manufacturers wouldn't need to use copy-protection products like the iLok system to protect their business and investment through developing all these creative and useful plug-ins. I accept that PACE have a duty to provide a reliable product so that we, the software developers' customers, are able to use our legally purchased plug-ins without problems and hindrance and I believe PACE have worked hard to develop a reliable system, as subcontractors to the software developers, to deal with end users like us through the iLok.com service.

"We must be doing something right," insists Andrew Kirk of PACE. "When software publishers offer options between hard disk challenge/response and iLok, the end users often choose iLok for the portability and convenience."

The other criticism levelled at PACE and iLok is that it's unfair to charge us for services like ZDT: after all, the argument goes, we have legitimately bought our plug-ins, and if we have a problem it should be sorted out as part of 'customer support'. Well it can and it does. If you are not covered by ZDT then, as with most products, all it costs you is to ship the damaged item back to the manufacturer or their agent (in this case PACE) and they will fix the problem and send you back a fully functioning device. The charges for that service would reflect whether the item was in warranty or not.

What PACE and iLok are offering with ZDT is an insurance policy, similar in many ways to the sort of policy we take out to cover the possible loss of all our credit cards. In that case, all we have to do is phone one number and that company will contact all the different card companies on our behalf and get the lost cards blocked. We don't tend complain about paying for that sort of service, and for professional users, $30 per iLok per year is peanuts compared with two weeks' lost work and goodwill because you don't have any plug-ins on your system to edit and mix with.


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