NDI, chart pirates?

NDI home page3I have no tolerance for boaters who rip off electronic charts; the practice hurts decent companies and has understandably led to copy protection schemes the rest of us have to cope with. But one chart manufacturer, Nautical Data International (NDI), has earned its own reputation for pirate practices. It ticked off customers for years with extra high prices, flawed encryption code, and even a “time out” mechanism that rendered charts you owned useless after a certain period. Two years ago, a nasty royalty fight erupted between NDI and the two big chart card companies C-Map and Navionics. You see, in 1993 NDI somehow wrangled not only the exclusive right to market electronic versions of Canadian Hydrographic Office (CHS) charts, but also exclusive right to negotiate royalty arrangements with other vendors. Many lawsuits followed, some still in court, but last winter CHS announced that it would terminate its relationship to NDI. Hence the strange  press releases featured on NDI’s home page (right) proclaiming its ability to continue “business as usual” and its success suing the government office it’s dependent on. I bring this up because I recently helped a friend prepare for a Newfoundland cruise and can confirm that charts he bought from NDI five years ago will not run or reinstall on his PC. He will use paper charts rather than ever do business with NDI again.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

16 Responses

  1. GPSNavX says:

    Are you saying the NDI charts could not be registered at the Maptech/NDI website? If they are BSB 4.0 charts you might try them on a Mac with GPSNavX. We have an OS X register application for BSB 4 and 5 charts which does not have any timeout mechanism..
    They will work with the demo version of GPSNavX
    I had not heard of this time-out issue.

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    BSB 4.0 did not exist 5 years ago. NDI used its own encryption. I had the original disc and called NDI when it would not install; the operator said that NDI would not unlock CDs sold prior to 2003. But I don’t think their current charts time out, perhaps because of screaming from customers?

  3. GPSNavX says:

    I can’t speak for NDI, but I have found Maptech to be very fair and equitable about upgrading their older PCX format charts to the newer BSB charts.
    I do find the BSB 4/5 registering to be a big pain (support wise), but I can’t blame Maptech or NDI for requring registration. In the boating community software piracy is rampant. It’s not just cruisers sharing charts, but 3rd parties are selling pirated charts and nav software to cruisers.
    While we only charge a mere $50 for GPSNavX nav software it is still pirated. Sure I wish I could give it away for free, but I do have to support GPSNavX and run a website which is not free.
    On another note I a big fan of the marineplanner.com website for downloading charts. At about $4 each they are a great deal.

  4. KCS says:

    So where are we, the consumer, in this battle? Are the pirates at NDI still contracted or has the Canadian Gov’t been able to terminate the disasterous contract with NDI?

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Apparently NDI has so far been able to hold off CHS in court, but its position opposing the very agency it is supposed to represent seems precarious.

  6. Aaron Grogan says:

    I’ve had so many hassles with copy-protected electronic charts that I simply refuse to buy them. I tend to lean towards limited government, but these inconveniences have made the free S-57 vector charts all the more attractive.
    Most obnoxious are the “key server” schemes, wherein you must contact the vendor (either electronically or personally) on each occasion that you wish to unlock your charts
    on a given device/computer. Some of these schemes have arbitrary restrictions, such as not allowing a chart to be transfered from one machine to another more than once. Worse still, your charts can no longer be unlocked once the vendor goes under. A $500 investment is suddenly worthless. When one licenses a product, one expects a feeling of “ownership” – one should not need permission to move her charts/music/books from one device to another, particularly since the vendor may not be in business forever. If one has more than one computer, one should also be allowed to install said charts on each of them, since it is unlikely that said user would ever be navigating on more than one computer at a given time. We call this “fair use.”
    Copy-protection/DRM (Digital “Rights” Management, a.k.a. “Digital Restrictions Management”) will never succeed in preventing “theft,” yet almost always ensure that legitimate users never get what they pay for, without “stealing” themselves. Meanwhile, proprietary cards and formats eliminate any possibility of competition, grossly inflate prices, and prevent users from taking their charts with them when upgrading to a newer hardware.
    Intellectual “property” just doesn’t seem viable anymore. If it is, however, content vendors need to learn to enforce their copyrights through conventional legal channels alone, and not harass/criminalize paying customers. I sense that average consumers are beginning to get a clue about the perils of DRM, and that this nonsense wont stand forever.
    As an aside, I must remind everyone that many of the electronic charts we buy are merely digitized copies of public-domain government surveys, some of them from the 1930s and earlier. Should we tolerate this double-tax?
    Now I’ll get back to work on my open-source S-57 software. The summer always ends up being more hectic than anticipated, but I hope to have some usable code by late August.

  7. Eli says:

    Hear hear Aaron.

  8. Dave says:

    I’ve been looking into S-57 charts & wonder if their future is limited? While trying to download them I came across a new S-63 standard which is basically a security wrapper for the S-57 charts. Is it likely in the future that we won’t be able to find S-57 charts but will have to get S-63 charts instead (which we won’t be able to read unless we go through some sort of security scheme like dongles)?

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Dave, I don’t think S-57 is going away, but no one said it would be free and unencrypted. That’s a situation peculiar pretty much to the U.S.A.

  10. bcl says:

    Charts, maps, images, etc. created using taxpayer money are in the public domain if I remember correctly.
    S-57 from NOAA should (I think) continue to be freely available. What’s their goal? Safer boating or a new revenue stream?

  11. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Not quite as simple as that. Yes, U.S. charts and data are copyright free, and, in fact, NOAA seems to be intent on giving at least S-57 data away freely, even durectly to end users. But NOAA does not give away digital raster charts, at least yet; instead it releases them through a private vendor, Maptech. That deal was controversial but I think it made some sense. At any rate, it may be ending soon. But meanwhile there’s a bill now in Washington to limit how much weather data NOAA gives away. Google “santorum weather”, get mad, and contact your senators and congress people!

  12. Joe Mauceri says:

    As of late Nov. 2005 NOAA has releast raster charts free in the bsb format with no restrictions that work on most charting programs. and I hope they continue. Maptech is also distributing the raster charts free on there web site. Enjoy Captain.

  13. Chris Ellingsen says:

    I remember having bought an NDI CD of Canadian charts in 2000. It was encrypted with some strange mechanism that required installing a special filesystem driver to be able to read the data. The files themselves, though, were standard BSB 3 charts.
    I was immediately suspicious of this as it was locked to my PC and it looked like I would lose access to the charts even if I had to re-install my PC. Since I didn’t want to take a chance, I copied the files over the network to another PC and burned a CD of the real unencrypted files.
    I am glad I did this, as I still have those files today even though they are a bit out of date. If your friend had done the same, he would not have regretted it either I am sure.
    This is just one more case of these encryption mechanisms not effectively stopping piracy but rather making life difficult for honest customers.

  14. norse says:

    End of story? The CHS bought back the rights to its charts from NDI and took over sales, distribution, and licensing at the start of April 2007. Evidently NDI won the fight to keep the terms of the original deal secret.
    CHS sells charts in BSB4 raster format and S-57 vector format, and these charts “meet the chart carriage requirements”. With the vector ones, no paper charts are required. The catch is that the EULA requires them to be destroyed at the end of the one year license.
    CHS also has value-added-retailer arrangements with Garmin and others, but not C-Map, Maptech, Navionics?
    Meanwhile Canada has made topographic maps free via the internet.

  15. R smith says:

    The days of software ownership have slipped away surreptitiously while not a peep was heard. It started with Antivirus sw and has reached a low with Admiral. A $500 dongle, two installations and it expires 365 days after installing. The versions after 9 no longer allow you to use S57 charts since that conflicted with sales of their passport charts…ripped off of NOAA data but sold at a high premium by Nobletech. In addition to renting the software you are NOT entitled to freely make backup copies and you have to call tech supt BEFORE you uninstall them in order to insure you are not using them on two computers simultaneously. As for copying from a network….i suspect you have copied only the image and not the nav data ….you need both the BSB and the KAP to have the image and the coordinate data for gps nav with the charts, granted vector charts may be different but since they come in layers it would be easy for the propirater [pun int] to include a code dependant master layer to which you would be beholden.
    There is no doubt about it….we paid for the hydrographic data and we pay for the chart and then we pay rental of software to view it with and i am not fond of waiting for it to expire mid-transit….although i have plenty of practice with Nobletech crashing in the dark and fog while naving by radar-PC. Im thinking maybe compass and watch!

  16. 0richard says:

    I bought NDI charts for lake Superior and found out they have expired.
    What is the point with ”Notice to Mariners” if you have to buy new charts every few years.
    I wish I had a bootleg version that did not expire or wish I knew of a way to remove the code for the expiry date from the .KAP files.
    Safe Boating!

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