Mac dev uses Klingon to make app pirates walk the plank


How do you say
How do you say "Payback's a bitch" in Klingon?
Photo: Edward Brawer

When a Klingon says bortaS bir jablu’DI’reH QaQqu’ nay,’ it’s not good. It means “Revenge is a dish best served cold” and what is likely to follow is some sort of death blow.

So when Edward Brawer, the developer of the dock replacement software uBar, had pirates of his Mac app in sight, he set his phaser to amusement. Users who ripped him off soon saw the titles on apps and folders switched to the Klingon language.

“I knew that fighting them head-on would be a complete waste of time,” Brawer told Cult of Mac. “These people clearly have nothing better to do. So I figured asymmetric warfare would be the best response.”

uBar has about 30,000 paid users. Those new to uBar can try it free for a month before they are asked to register for a fee of $20. Brewer estimates about 1,000 users found ways to get the app on their computers without paying. Klingons are kind of the pirates of Star Trek, the war-mongering humanoid alien enemies of the starship Enterprise and other Star Fleet ships.

In 2014, the value of software illegally copied totaled $10.9 billion in North America alone, according to research conducted by V.I. Labs. Its research also revealed two in five software products in circulation globally is unpaid.

Brawer’s strategy was simple. Let the pirates crack uBar. Rather than change the protection mechanism, Brawer programmed uBar to translate titles into random Klingon words whenever the app detected the registration mechanism was circumvented.

“As a sci-fi fan, I enjoy Star Trek, but not to the point of being a Trekkie,“ he said. “I recalled that some fans were obsessed to the point of learning Klingon. So I googled ‘Klingon Dictionary,’ and the rest is history.”

Sure enough, frustrated unauthorized users wrote from their corporate email accounts to the uBar support team to report “gibberish.” They even signed their named with their company title, such as “Development Manager.”

The support team obliged with this response:

As you are using a pirated copy of uBar, it is unavoidable that you must begin learning Klingon. It is the life you have chosen. Dujeychugh jags nIv yItuHQo’!

The uBar team

Brawer waited a year before going public. He recently chronicled his strategy on his blog.

“I am pleased with the result,” he said. “Rather than be worried, annoyed or angry about piracy, it provided for some great amusement to the team over the year and allowed us to focus on what we do best – write great software for the Mac.”