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Issue No.02 - April-June (2011 vol.33)
pp: 75-88
Honghong Tinn , Cornell University
<p>In the early 1980s, tinkerers assembling and modifying microcomputers opened up this black-boxed technology and helped popularize microcomputers in Taiwan. Such activities, however, prompted copyright suits between Apple Computer and Taiwanese computer manufacturers. This article delineates the debate around those suits and examines how this practice shaped new social meanings of microcomputers in Taiwan.</p>
History of computing, tinkering, microcomputers, Apple II, Apple Computer, compatibles, software, Taiwan
Honghong Tinn, "From DIY Computers to Illegal Copies: The Controversy over Tinkering with Microcomputers in Taiwan, 1980–1984", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.33, no. 2, pp. 75-88, April-June 2011, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2011.38
1. By "technological system,", I mean what T. Hughes has defined in his books and articles. See Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930, John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983, or "The Evolution of Large Technological Systems," The Social Construction of Technological Systems, W. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, and T.J. Pinch eds., MIT Press, 1987, pp. 50–80.
2. See A.L. Norberg, , Computers and Commerce: A Study of Technology and Management at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, Engineering Research Associates, and Remington Rand, 1946–1957, MIT Press, 2005, and T. Bardini, and A. Horvarth, "The Social Construction of the Personal Computer User," J. Comm., vol. 45, no. 3, 1995, pp. 40–65.
3. See A. Akera, "Voluntarism and Occupational Identity," Calculating a Natural World: Scientists, Engineers, and Computers During the Rise of U.S. War Research, MIT Press, 2006, pp. 249–274, and M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 33, 52–53, 109.
4. J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, MIT Press, 2000.
5. See S. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899–1922, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1989; C. Lindsay, "From the Shadows: Users as Designers. Producers, Marketers, Distributors, and Technical Support," How Users Matter, N. Oudshoorn, and T.J. Pinch eds., MIT Press, 2003, pp. 29–50; J.M. Greenberg, , From Betamax to Blockbuster: Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video, MIT Press, 2008; K. Haring, Ham Radio's Technical Culture, MIT Press, 2006; and R. Maines, Hedonizing Technology: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2009.
6. See P. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, 1998; M. Campbell-Kelly, and W. Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, 2nd ed., Westview, 2004; and P. Freiberger, and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1984.
7. Y. Takahashi, "A Network of Tinkerers: The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan," Technology and Culture, vol. 41, no. 3, 2000, pp. 460–484, and K. Franz, Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
8. The statistics of the following several years are 43% in 1996, 50% in 1997, and 48% in 1998. No statistics are available for years prior to 1995. Nevertheless, one of my informants estimated that self-assembled computers accounted for at least 90% of all the computers during the early 1980s in Taiwan. The estimate might have been an overestimation, but the lack of statistics on self-assembled computers offers a wonderful opportunity for this article to discuss the prevalence of the practice of building one's own computer during the early 1980s. For the statistics, see "An Analysis of the Market of Information Products," Inst. for Information Industry, 1997, p. 21, and W.-B. Xie, "An Analysis of the Domestic Computer Market," Inst. for Information Industry, 1999, p. 40. The English translations of the names of the Taiwanese informants, journalists, and authors of books cited in this article follow the pinyin system, if there are no personal translations available.
9. On technological mediators, for example, see R. Kline, "Resisting Consumer Technology in Rural America: The Telephone and Electrification," How Users Matter, Oudshoorn and Pinch, eds., pp. 51–66; Oudshoorn and Pinch, "User-Technology Relationships: Some Recent Developments," How Users Matter, pp. 1–25.
10. By "social groups" and "social meaning," I mean what T. Pinch, W. Bijker, and R. Kline, have defined in their articles. See Pinch and Bijker, "The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or, How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other," The Social Construction of Technological Systems, pp. 399–431; Kline and Pinch, "Users as Agents of Technological Change: The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States," Technology and Culture, vol. 37, no. 4, 1996, pp. 763–795.
11. Chinese and Taiwanese are the first two common languages spoken by the Taiwanese.
12. See the advertisement of the TUP-80 microcomputer in Electronics & Radio-TV Technical Monthly, vol. 43, no. 6, 1980, p. 29.
13. For example, Z.-Y. He, "The Roles of Microcomputers," Electronics & Radio-TV Technical Monthly, vol. 44, no. 1, 1981, p. 39. Except for an article from Wired, all the news articles cited in this article were published in Chinese, and translated into English by the author.
14. C. Ku interview by H. Tinn11 July 2007.
15. M.-B. Xu, "The Ban on Arcade Games Is Confirmed," United News Daily,28 Mar. 1982, p. 3.
16. For example, Iau-Sheng Wang had worked for a computer software magazine from 1986 to 1989. He estimated that computers built by shops or users accounted for at least 90% of all the computers during the early 1980s in Taiwan. I.-S. Wang interview by H. Tinn17 Jun. 2007.
17. B. Johnstone and A. Leonard, "Me-Too Is Not My Style," Wired, vol. 2, no. 9, 1994.
18. Ting-Wen Kau had purchased a case that was for amplifiers for his microcomputer. T.-W. Kau interviewed by H. Tinn6 Jul. 2007.
19. C.-E. Liang, "Audio Systems and Computers," published on 25 May 2005;
20. T.-S. Hsu interviewed by H. Tinn27 Jun. 2007. Sometimes, computer-parts shops might sell used items without identifying their secondhand status to customers. Individual buyers would have to be cautious of the computer parts they bought. The knowledge of distinguishing the new from the used and the ability to memorize model numbers of ICs were important for preventing fraud.
21. The price of an Apple II ranged from approximately US$1,490 to $1,700 in December 1982 in Taiwan. An Apple II compatible cost US$250 on average, and the price could range from US$150 to $750. See Q.-M. Chen, "The Rise and Fall of Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers," Economic News Daily,22 Feb. 1983, p. 12.
22. X.-L. Jiang, "Fixing Your Own Computers: Apple II Computers and Compatibles," The Third Wave, vol. 36, Aug. 1985, pp. 55–68.
23. Y.-J. Lin, "Computers Changed My Life," The Third Wave, vol. 30, Feb. 1985, pp. 84–86.
24. K.-M. Lin, "Tips for Purchasing Personal Computers," Information and Computers, vol. 3, no. 7, Jan. 1983, pp. 45–46.
25. Z.-Y. Cai, "Teens Are Obsessed with Versatile Home Computers: Apple 'Gangs' Meet Periodically and Create New Cultures," United Daily News,15 Nov. 1982, p. 3.
26. See advertisements for Focus Corporation and Rong-Kuan Corporation, 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 9, Jan. 1982, p. 25, p. 31.
27. See an advertisement for Electronics Information Magazine in 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 10. Feb. 1982, p. 199.
28. For articles published in 1982, see "Speak for the Arcade-Console Industry: Please Save Our Information Industry," 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 13, May 1982, pp. 50–52, and "Letter to Teacher Lin," 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 13, May 1982, p. 217. For retrospective statements, for example, see "An Analysis of Desktop Computers," Inst. for Information Industry, 1994, p. 3.
29. It was difficult for me to find either owners of these shops or the manufacturers of Apple II compatibles and, consequently, to interview them. The details of the business of these shops and manufacturers were seldom explicitly introduced by the mass media or amateur magazines, partly because the legal status of the business was controversial at that time.
30. Y.-H. Zheng, "The Illegal Copies Are Everywhere," Economic News Daily,16 Dec. 1982, p. 10.
31. The earliest Eprom-programmer advertisement that I found was for Hui-Mao, an electronics retail company, see Electronics & Radio-TV Technical Monthly, vol. 43, no. 2, 1980, p. 209. In 1982, a reader wrote a letter to the editor of a column of 0 & 1 Technology to ask how to use a newly purchased Eprom programmer. See "Letters to Teacher Lin," 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 9, Jan. 1982, p. 193.
32. Z.-H. Tai, "The Heart of the Microcomputer Industry: Microprocessors," 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 13, May 1982, pp. 57–69.
33. Chen, "The Rise and Fall of Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers," p. 12; Y.-Q. Zhung, "The Country's Worsening Reputation for Patent Infringement," Economic Daily News,19 Oct. 1982, p. 3.
34. "Six Company Owners Were Prosecuted for Selling Software," Economic Daily News,14 Aug. 1983, p. 2.
35. "Apple Software Infringement on Trial," United Daily News,21 Sept. 1983, p. 2.
36. "Selling Illegal Copies of Apple II, Defendants Face Six Months Sentences," United Daily News,25 Dec. 1984, p. 7; M.-B. Xu, "Making Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers Violates Copyright," United Daily News,25 Jan. 1984, p. 3; "Though Not Enacted into a Law, the Protection of Copyright on Computers Is Acknowledged by the High Court," Economic News Daily,7 Dec. 1984, p. 2.
37. "A Professor Disagreed with the Verdict of Computer Pirating," United Daily News,26 Jan. 1984, p. 3; S.-L. Guo and D.-Y. Weng, "The Verdict on Copyright on Computers Was Agreeable but Also Controversial," Economic News Daily,8 Dec. 1984, p. 2.
38. Xu,"Making Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers Violates Copyright," p. 3. "Progressive" in the context of this news article worked as a pun. The editor emphasized that the Taiwanese courts had recognized the copyright on software earlier than other countries had, and the quotation marks showed that the editor disagreed with the rulings. The original Chinese term was Ling-Xian-Yi-Bu, which connotes advanced, ahead, and progressive.
39. "Real or Fake Computers," China Times,14 Dec. 1982, p. 3.
40. By "convention," I mean that the competitors and experts gathered together for the final tournament, in which they also discussed whether the Apple II compatibles were counted as illegal copies.
41. "Real or Fake Computers," China Times, p. 3.
42. Chen,"The Rise and Fall of Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers," p. 12.
43. H. Xuan, "Information of the Information Exhibition Week," The Third Wave, vol. 29, Jan. 1985, p. 57.
44. W.-X. Zhu, "Studying the Target Consumer, Doing Innovative Design, and Expanding Sales Network Make Profits," Economic News Daily,5 Dec. 1981, p. 12.
45. Q.-M. Chen, "The Bright Future of Arcade Console Industry," Economic News Daily,26 Mar. 1982, p. 12.
46. "US Company Sued Six Taiwanese Companies," United Daily News,18 Sept. 1983, p. 3.
47. S.M. Moon, "Takeoff or Self-Sufficiency? Ideologies of Development in Indonesia, 1957–1961," Technology and Culture, vol. 39, no. 2, 1998, pp. 187–212.
48. S.M. Moon, "Justice, Geography, and Steel: Technology and National Identity in Indonesian Industrialization," Osiris, vol. 24, no. 1, 2009, pp. 253–277.
49. R. Sundaram, Pirate Modernity: Delhi's Media Urbanism, Routledge, 2010.
50. I. da Costa Marques, "Cloning Computers: From Rights of Possession to Rights of Creation," Science as Culture, vol. 14, no. 2, 2005, pp. 139–160.
51. "The Association of Computer Manufacturers Fights Illegal Copies," Economic News Daily,8 Oct. 1985, p. 3.
52. Guo and Weng,"The Verdict on Copyright on Computers Was Agreeable but Also Controversial," p. 2.
53. Chen,"The Rise and Fall of Illegal Copies of Apple II Computers," p. 12.
54. Lin,"Tips for Purchasing Personal Computers," pp. 45–46.
55. An advertisement for Jia Jia Corporation, 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 13, May 1982, p. 152.
56. For example, a company called Bai-Sheng provided services for fixing authentic Apple computers and compatibles. See an advertisement for Bai-Sheng Corporation, 0 & 1 Technology, vol. 13, May 1982, p. 147.
57. See "ERSO Urges Companies to Obtain IBM's Approval," Information Biweekly, vol. 4, June 1984, p. 5.
58. Because of an urban-planning project for building an underground railway, the Chung-Hua Arcade closed in 1992, and many computer-parts shops moved to the Kuang-Hua Public Market. In 2008, the Kuang-Hua Public Market moved to a nearby newly constructed building, the design of which strongly suggests that of a contemporary trendy department store. The move was caused by another urban-planning project, in which the overpass above the market was torn down. The reorganization of the space for selling cutting-edge computers and electronics in Taipei reflects the changes in the social meaning ascribed to these technological artifacts, a topic that deserves another research project.
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