Dorico 4, planned for early 2022, will be first Steinberg product to use new licensing system [updated]


This post was originally published on November 10, 2021 and re-published on December 15, 2021 to reflect significant changes made by Steinberg in response to customer feedback.

In addition, in light of a licensing announcement made by Avid on December 16, 2021, we have reproduced our comparison table of the Avid and Dorico licensing systems within this article.

Steinberg today announced a successor to the eLicenser license management system that has been used by its software products for decades. Called Steinberg Licensing, the new identity-based system will enable single-user activation on two computers three computers simultaneously, and will be managed by the user’s Steinberg ID account, instead of the current requirements of a USB key or separate licensing system.

In a blog post introducing the Steinberg Licensing system to Dorico users, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury revealed that the first Steinberg product to use the new system will, in fact, be Dorico — Dorico 4, in particular. Originally slated for a release before the end of 2021, Daniel said today that Dorico 4 will now come in “early 2022, primarily to make sure that your first experience of using Steinberg Licensing is as seamless as possible.” Following the release of Dorico 4, Steinberg will release major versions of its other products, each of which will use the new system.

Steinberg Licensing

Steinberg has issued a lengthy statement about Steinberg Licensing and produced an extensive series of FAQs, but the concept and process are not complicated. When you download your purchased software — let’s say Dorico 4 — Steinberg will install a new Steinberg Activation Manager, which you can use to manage your licenses. The first time you run Dorico, the computer will contact Steinberg over the internet to check your license and activate your software, and, if your computer is connected to the internet, Dorico will “phone home” in the future to make sure that your license is up to date.

If you’re not online at any time after your initial activation, Dorico will run for 30 days without you needing to reconnect.

When this licensing system was first announced on November 10, Steinberg planned to have the Activation manager “phone home” periodically to allow the software to renew the 30-day activation.

In an update announced on December 15, 2021, Steinberg PR manager Stefan Trowbridge acknowledged the concern that customers had about this approach, and announced a significant change: Once the software is initially activated, it does not need to contact the activation servers again in order for the software to be used.

He said:

“Many users expressed concern about this approach, particularly on the grounds that software sold under a perpetual license should not have any kind of time limitation in its use.

We have decided to make significant changes in this area: for software purchased under a perpetual license, there will be no requirement for your computer to connect to our activation servers after initial activation. There will be no offline allowance period: instead, once your software has been activated on your computer, it never needs to contact our activation servers again for you to be able to keep using it.

If you eventually want to stop using the software on that computer and move it to another computer, you can run Steinberg Activation Manager to deactivate it, freeing up that activation for another computer.

As before, your perpetual license applies only to the current major version of the product: e.g., if you purchase a license for Dorico 4, your license will not apply to Dorico 5 or any later version.”

Furthermore, Steinberg has increased the maximum number of allowable activations allowed. Initially, as announced, the Steinberg Licensing system permitted up to two computers to be licensed simultaneously.

Stefan said that plan has been revised upward, to three computers:

“In our original announcement, we specified that it would be possible to activate a single-user license on up to two computers, for your own personal use.

We heard from some customers that increasing the maximum number of activations would be more convenient. To address this, we have decided to increase the maximum number of activations from two to three computers. Your single-user license for your Steinberg software may be activated on a maximum of three computers simultaneously.

Please note that a single-user license is still licensed to an individual person, so it is not permitted for multiple different people to use the software, either at the same or at different times. Each activated machine is for your own personal use.”

For most users of Dorico, this should be a welcome change, whether you are using the USB-eLicenser hardware key— the “dongle”, which is always at risk of being lost or left behind when you need it most — or the Soft-eLicenser (SeL) software key, which is permanently tethered to a single machine.

Promised in future updates to the system, although not at the time of its initial rollout, are multi-user licenses for educational institutions and enterprise customers, enabling them to choose the number of computers on which the software can be simultaneously licensed. “For the time being,” Steinberg says, “the offering for educational and business customers will continue to vary according to the product.”

Comparison of Avid and Steinberg licensing systems

Initial activation via internetYesYes
Maximum simultaneous activations2 (plus 1 legacy, see above)3
Activate/deactivate automaticallyYes* (see below)No; user must deactivate first
Periodic check of license requiredYes* (see below)No
Time period software can be offline7 days, rolling since last checkN/A
Option to take activation offlineYes* (see below)N/A
Institutional and enterprise license supportedNo; planned for futureNo; planned for future
*User can select the "Take Offline" option to put a "persistent" license on the computer and require periodic license validation via internet; however, user will need to deactivate license manually first before activating on another computer if all activations are in use.

Dorico 4 to come in early 2022; grace period from August 25, 2021

As exciting as a new licensing system is — and it really is exciting, if you have ever been frustrated by not being able to activate your software in a timely and easy manner — today’s news brought the announcement of Dorico 4’s new planned release date of “early 2022”. Although “you may be disappointed to learn that Dorico 4 will not be arriving before the end of the year as we had originally planned,” as Daniel puts it, “there really is not much longer to wait, and we have a huge number of exciting new features and improvements in store for you.”

No details are given, but we can reasonably expect some of the features already introduced on Dorico for iPad to come to the desktop in Dorico 4, and, if past is prologue, there will be lots more to cover when it finally appears.

What’s more, if you haven’t yet purchased or upgraded to Dorico 3.5, you can do so now and be guaranteed a free upgrade to Dorico 4, thanks to a very generous grace period that will apply to any Dorico 3.5 activations that occurred on or after August 25, 2021. If you’re the sort who likes to take advantage of any possible discount, there was this further tidbit in Daniel’s post: “Keep an eye out for one more opportunity to buy Dorico 3.5 at a special price before the end of the year.”

Daniel also directly addressed the updated plans for Steinberg Licensing: “We hope this addresses any remaining concerns that our customers might have over the introduction of Steinberg Licensing.


  1. Adrien de Croy

    Phoning home regularly for re-validation of an activated license is problematic. It only gets around one problem – people who alter their system clock.

    There are enough troubles that happen when you wind your system clock back to discourage most people, and we have seen no evidence (and we do monitor this) of abuse by this mechanism with our product, which simply bakes any expiry into the activation if there is one. Phoning home should be avoided at all cost. Networking is just too unreliable, and it puts all these networking problems in the failure chain.

    If you can purchase a perpetual license, and yet still have it disabled because your system doesn’t get internet access in a timeframe that Steinberg feels appropriate, then you didn’t really buy a perpetual license. I wish they would just start showing some respect to the people who gave them money, and stop punishing them for other people’s actions.

    1. Dirk Tomandl

      I don’t think that phoning home every 30 days is unreasonable.
      Companies like Steinberg are most likely operating on very tight margins given the costs of professional software development and the low selling price of the software in the few hundreds of dollars. Would be interesting to know how many licenses have to be sold every year just to break even.
      Companies have to walk a fine line between protecting their investments and inconvenience to honest customers. It is the minority of dishonest thieves who force the software companies to introduce inconveniences. Otherwise they would simply go out of business.

    2. Joe Thrower, Sr.

      I just joined the forum. I appreciate your comments.

  2. Patrick Schönbach

    I totally agree with Adrien. Phoning home is magnitudes worse than the e-licenser, because it puts a risk on the user that neither the user nor Steinberg has control of. One long internet outage can basically stop you from working. This is definitely nowhere near acceptablle!

    1. Dirk Tomandl

      When was the last time you had a 30 day internet outage?

  3. Philip Rothman

    The way I understand it, you will be able to work for up to 30 days without a internet connection. In an era where a 30-second internet outage is disruptive, a 30-minute outage is costly, and a 30-hour outage is catastrophic, it’s unlikely a 30-day period will be problematic. If you are on a desert island working in Dorico, you probably have more immediate concerns.

  4. Adrien de Croy

    For anyone who thinks 30 days is a reasonable assumption that people will have internet access, I invite you to take a look at the Sibelius users group on Facebook.

    they thought the same thing – surely people would have internet access some time in 30 days. Well they were wrong. There are so many posts about people losing access to their paid license because of this, that it seems crazy that Steinberg would also adopt it.

    Also, consider this.

    Your ability to run Dorico will now depend on whether or not Steinberg is running its servers. If it has a major outage, hack, or just drops the product, you will stop being able to use it, even though you paid for a perpetual license.

    It just puts a vulnerability into the system, and it’s only because they fear what would happen if they didn’t do it, they never tried it. I have tried it with our product. Sure, it’s not Dorico. People should be treated with more trust once they purchased.

  5. Adrien de Croy

    One of the major issues seen on the Sibelius group is the scenario where a user hasn’t used Sibelius for over 30 days. So the phone-home system needs an immediate check upon starting Sibelius.

    If this fails (which will probably happen 1% of the time) you now have thousands of users complaining.

    It’s an absolutely terrible idea, and they should be aware of the troubles Avid has with this before they adopt the same strategy.

  6. Adrien de Croy


    My product is a network proxy server. there is probably no type of product that would put anyone in a better position to gain experience about the unreliability of networking.

    There are plenty of ways this phone home can fail.

    1. Actual local outage at the time the software decides it must have access
    2. Outage in the Steinberg servers at the time the software decides it must have access
    3. User is on a network that does not allow internet access. You would be amazed how often this happens.
    4. Behind a corporate firewall that doesn’t allow access to the Steinberg servers.
    5. Behind a corporate firewall that uses SSL inspection, which breaks activation.

    You might think these are contrived examples, but the Steinberg downloader simply does not work if your system is even set to use a proxy, so Steinberg has bad form in relation to networking.

    I really hope I’m wrong, but honestly I think this will bite plenty of people, and I’ve seen so many posts on the Dorico forums about Sibelius users finally getting fed up with being denied access due to this, and vocally announcing it on the Dorico forum, that Steinberg can’t claim ignorance on this.

    1. Daniel

      Just a few notes and comments,… if you’re a user who has does NOT have INTERNET ACCESS on a regular basis and/or constant and continual INTERNET OUTAGES, how are you communicating with the outside world? Do you not have your WIRELESS DEVICES/CELL PHONES, etc. to make calls, do business, etc.,? If so, TETHER to your phone for the 60 seconds it would take to make your authorizations… Again, if you’re one of these people, shouldn’t you FIRST be worried about your DATA (all of your scores) NOT being backed up to some kind of CLOUD SERVICE?!?!?! If you’re not BACKING UP YOUR DATA EVERYDAY VIA CLOUD SERVICES you’re at risk LOSING YOUR DATA so, your Dorico Licensing is the LEAST OF YOUR WORRIES! I honestly can’t imagine there IS such a person in such a situation that DOESN’T have a Cell Phone or Tablet to do thusly. Think through it people!

      1. Adrien de Croy

        when you’ve worked in networking, and server computing for 26 years, maybe your imagination about the types of things that can and do go wrong will be extended.

        Just because you can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it can’t happen and surprise you. And lack of internet at the client side is only half the picture. Steinberg can’t keep their activation servers going at the moment. Try activating Cubase when they release a new major version. Or just google for “Steinberg activation servers outage”. Then consider what might happen if someone decides to DDoS their activation / validation servers.

  7. Francis

    This is basically a subscription model without the recurring payment.

    1. Patrick Schönbach

      Actually, the recurring payment might follow afoot, once the customers swallowed the new licensing scheme.

      1. Francis

        Very likely that is Steinberg’s plan.

        1. David MacDonald

          They have stated loudly and repeatedly that they are not interested in moving to a subscription.

  8. RobF

    I subscribe to EW Composer Cloud which also has a phone home requirement, but it’s never caused me any problems. What *is* a big negative is that the license is for only one computer, so every time I switch between laptop and desktop it has to be deactivated/reactivated, but at least Steinberg allow 2 activations. Also, no more having to move the dongle, so now I can use the laptop without a USB hub. The comments above make a fair point, but overall I think the new licensing is an improvement.

  9. Hemgud

    Isn’t it feasible to have both systems working together? For instance, using the new internet system to activate Dorico, and if for some reason there’s no internet (or for those who like/need to have a dedicated offline computer just for work), use a usb key to activate it.

    1. David MacDonald

      I don’t know exactly what the plan is, but they’ve said that there will be a way to use Dorico (and other Steinberg products) on computers that do not connect to the Internet regularly).

    2. Joe Thrower, Sr.

      I like that idea! From reading all of these posts, my USB dongle isn’t so bad after all. This makes me a bit nervous. I do want multiple computers to be activated at the same time, but I don’t welcome the hassle that may come with it. So, I’ll hold tight to my little dongle and continue to use version 3.5 until the confusion clears up or goes away.

  10. LMo

    So, enough about licensing. What are Dorico 4’s new features?! I’m sure something really great is cooking.

  11. Bela

    The amount of closed down topics about licensing on Steinberg’s forum tells you how controversial their decision is. I wish they had spent all their effort instead of developing another contrived licensing system to improve Dorico and Cubase. Shame that’s not the case.

    1. Adrien de Croy

      I have no problem that Daniel closed those topics on the forum. They needed to be closed, and I think pretty much everything that was needed to be said was said.

      I trust Daniel when he says they are discussing the issues that have been raised.

      I personally think a decent software-based activation system can be a fantastic thing for users and vendors. My only problem was with the assumption that internet would be available when required, which is a consequence of choosing to deny access if the revalidation check fails. I have no problem if the phone home system gets an answer, and the other end says explicitly to block access. But this is the phone home system that blocks your access if it gets no answer. The 30 days is how long it will continue to allow access while it gets no answer, but it only tries to call when you start Dorico, so if you don’t start Dorico (e.g. you don’t use it for 30 days, or you leave it open) for 30 days you are in trouble if the next time you start it, it fails to get an answer.

  12. Philip Rothman

    This post has just been updated to reflect the news that the plan for the Steinberg Licensing system has been modified so that once your software has been activated on your computer, it never needs to contact their activation servers again for you to be able to keep using it.

    Also, the maximum number of activations has been increased from two to three computers.

    1. Adrien de Croy

      This is awesome news. I’m so glad they listened. I will have to build a shrine, and sing their praises wherever I go. It’s rare that a company will take what we say to heart like that. I’m really impressed.

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