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How People Used To Pirate Retro Software

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You will be forgiven for thinking that I am teaching you how to make illegal pirate copies of your software after reading the title above. Well rest assured I won’t walk the plank as this article is for informational purposes only. As a programmer, I understand how software piracy can hurt businesses, so I don’t recommend it. There is a lot of good software that can be downloaded for free, especially if you don’t need all the fancy features of expensive software. This article explains how people pirated software from retro computers such as the Spectrum and the Atari ST.


Spectrum and C64 software came on cassettes that were inserted into data loggers (or tape recorders) and could be loaded into memory by typing a command such as load “”. These computers relied on a series of sound signals that were never pleasant to listen to because they were horrible screams. Quite often you had to wait up to ten minutes (for a Spectrum 128k game in particular) to load when it could crash, which meant you had to readjust the volume and start over. In case of weak recording, the game tape would usually have a separate copy on the other side.
Most people could copy these games using a hi-fi system with two cassette decks. By inserting the original game tape into the first deck and pressing “play”, and inserting a blank tape into the second deck and pressing “play and record”, you could get a perfect copy. You can purchase tapes for saving data like a C15 which allows you to record for up to fifteen minutes. Some people would use a C90 which would allow them to store multiple games at once.

If you didn’t have access to two tape decks, you could use software. On the Spectrum, you could use something like “007Spy” which would allow you to load the entire game into memory, then save it to a blank tape. Some games had different ways of charging, such as pulse (or click) chargers, a method used by many Ocean Software games. This has led to the release of other software that can tackle these loaders. The average Spectrum game would consist of a short piece of code (the header), a loading screen, and the main code. This is the standard loader, easy to copy.

When the Spectrum 128k +3 came out, it came with a built-in floppy disk drive. Since there were only a limited number of games released on +3 discs, methods were used to transfer them from tape to disc. The standard charger was easy. All you had to do was type merge “” to enter the editor code and save it to disk +3 (save “a: program-name”). Then you would load the loading screen higher into memory (load code “screen name” 30000) and save it to a +3 disk. Finally, you would do the same with the main code and add the load commands to the main header code.

For the more complicated loaders, a suite of programs called “007 Trans-Master” was used to convert the files to the standard format so that they could be recorded on +3 discs.


The advantage of the Atari ST and Amiga computers was that you could get your hands on hundreds of free software, without having to pirate commercial software. There were a lot of Public Domain Libraries (PDLs) that distributed free software for the price of a disk and postage, and for their distribution work. The current software is free and covers everything from demos to games and pictures to music files. There was also the shareware method where you pay a small subscription to receive extras for full versions of the software and licensed software where the PDL would offer a small commission to the original contributor.

Atari ST software was normally copied using dedicated disk copiers such as “Fast Copy” while the Amiga used the popular “X-Copy”. However some discs were protected and therefore other more powerful copy software had to be used.


Software companies have used many forms of production to discourage copying, such as the more complicated loaders on the Spectrum. Other methods would require the user to type in a word or letter from the manual before they can enter the game, or to choose a series of colors or symbols in their book to match those on the screen. Some games make you think you’ve copied them until you’ve played them for so long and noticed a nasty surprise. The game “Shadow of the Beast” turns the screen upside down on certain levels for example.

This led to the rise of cracking groups such as the famous “Pompey Pirates” on the Atari ST who would hack the game and remove copy protection. They then released a number of games (pirated and packaged) on a single floppy disk that was distributed to various users.


The battle between software companies and hackers is an ongoing one and people will always want free software if they can get it. Old retro software is available for free download from various websites for people who want to relive the good old days, so there is no need to copy it from the originals. I will not tell you how to copy the latest PC software. I only wrote this article to explain how people used to back up their software for older systems. I have stated that there are plenty of free and inexpensive software available for the PC and I urge you to use them rather than resorting to hacking.

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