Autodesk Assistance Program and the educational watermark

You have probably seen blog posts about the Autodesk Assistance Program (see the FAQ PDF), promoted as a hand-up for the less fortunate who find themselves unemployed as a result of the current financial environment. The Autodesk PR makes it clear that the free software on offer is a 13-month student license. However, the consequences of using such software are not made clear, so I’ll spell it out here.

If you use Autodesk educational software, you are not supposed to use it for commercial purposes. So, if you’ve just lost your position and were hoping to set yourself up with a few odd jobs here and there, building yourself up to a full-time drafting and design shop, don’t use the Autodesk Assistance Program software to do it. It’s useful only to help you keep your skills up to date, nothing else.

What happens if you do use it for real work? Bad things. If Autodesk finds out, it might set a pack of rabid lawyers on you. How might Autodesk find out? Through your clients. Why would your clients tell Autodesk? Ah, that’s where the educational watermark comes into it.

Every DWG file saved by the educational version of AutoCAD is invisibly stamped, recording that fact. That includes blocks extracted using Wblock, of course. If such a drawing is ever plotted, even by a normal, fully-paid-up AutoCAD, a text stamp will appear along all four sides, proclaiming that the drawing is For Educational Use Only.

Trouble is, the invisible stamp passes from drawing to drawing like a virus, particularly among users of older releases. If somebody uses the educational version to just look at a drawing and happens to save it, that drawing is indelibly stamped with the mark of the Beast. If any part of that drawing is ever inserted into another, it carries the infection with it. It has been possible for companies acting totally honestly to end up with a large number of infected drawings, only to discover the extent of the disaster when plotting out a drawing set.

This has been less of an issue in recent years, because in AutoCAD from 2004 on, there’s a warning issued in the non-student versions of AutoCAD if an infested drawing is inserted or opened. It’s also possible for users of AutoCAD 2000 to 2002 to receive such a warning, using the EDU-Scan utility from ManuSoft.

Despite misinformation about this from Autodesk (e.g. “There is no way to circumvent the plot stamp” from here), such drawings can be cured. Innocent victims of the infestation can apply to their AutoCAD dealers for a special utility, time-limited to 15 days, to fix up the drawings. A DOS utility is also available that can identify the infected drawings. You may be asked to identify the source of the drawings before being provided with anything.

Alternatively, users of the non-student version can clean up infected drawings easily enough with an option of a very commonly used AutoCAD command. No, I’m not going to tell you which command, and please don’t email me to ask. I can tell you it was the first thing I tried when I came across such a drawing, and it worked perfectly. If you’re an innocent party in that unfortunate situation, a few minutes experimentation should see you right.

I wonder if an unintended side-effect of the Autodesk Assistance Program is going to be a rise in the incidence of educationally-tainted drawings. For those who ever receive drawings from other parties (probably most of us), it’s something to keep an eye out for. For those who intend using the Autodesk Assistance Program software, it’s a good idea to make sure you keep a tight rein on any drawings you produce with it. Because distributing student-stamped drawings is likely to do your future employment prospects no good at all.

2 comments to Autodesk Assistance Program and the educational watermark

  • Wm.J.Townsend

    I’d like to have my very own “educational watermark” maker. It could be an inserted logo, part of a titleblock, or a line of text that is placed where I want, displays on screen or not, and can be made to print or not at my needy vindictive whim… Oh, and no little trick backdoor to removal. Forever linking my sometimes quirky work to it’s conceptor (new word?). -Bill

  • Earl Kubaskie

    We’ve talked about this on the AUGI forums a bit, too. Some who aren’t clued in about the subject are griping that the program will unfairly allow people to start their own biz with free software. And clueless unemployed might just think that a great idea.

    Too bad it’s usually the client rather than the freelancer that gets the worst of this “feature”.

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