Archived News Article
by Robert J. Tribeck & Kevin M. Gold
Need another copy of this program? That’s easy, just copy it from my computer. Wrong answer! And it could cost your company hundreds of thousands of dollars and, perhaps more importantly, created unnecessary and unwanted publicity.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is a non-profit organization funded by major software and hardware producers, such as Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Dell, IBM and Intel. The sole mission of the BSA: to convince current or former employees to report software license and copyright violations by their employers, thereby starting a chain of events that inevitably leads to an expensive and embarrassing result for the employer.
Once the BSA gets a tip, it aggressively (often over-aggressively) pursues the alleged offenders. The fines associated with copyright violations can be as high as $150,000 per occurrence. The BSA repeatedly reminds and threatens targeted companies with such fines and its history suggests it will do everything in its power to pursue such a claim. The BSA makes even the most intrusive IRS Audit seem like a walk in the park, since the BSA is neither governed nor constrained by Federal Laws as are governmental agencies.
Upon receiving what it views as a credible tip, the BSA will contact the company, indicating that a tip has been received and seeking information from the company on its software and licenses. The information sought will include a detailed explanation of all computer software maintained by the company, plus evidence of the appropriate licenses for each piece of software, often under oath. Companies should understand that when the BSA poses such questions, it usually already has the answers. BSA will push a company for answers, often leaving little or no response time, coupled with a threat of action if a response is not received. And BSA has and will follow through on such threats.
Eventually, the company is left with two choices: purchase the required number of licenses and pay BSA a hefty fine, or risk the consequences of the BSA obtaining essentially a search warrant for the company’s premises, then appearing and “seizing” the company’s computers. Such actions inevitably result in expensive and time-consuming litigation, as well as significant business interruption. Equally important, however, the BSA has a policy of taking violators on in the press: the BSA will author embarrassing articles from the company’s perspective for publication in newspapers in and around the company’s offices. The purpose is deterrence to other companies. The BSA is so zealous on this issue that it has even ignored specific Court orders in seeking to embarrass a company.
Software piracy is sometimes “intentional” in that the company knows what it is doing is wrong but looks the other way. However, software piracy is often unintentional from the company’s perspective. For whatever reason, the company does not know (or chooses to ignore) what its IT professionals are doing relative to the securing of appropriate software licenses. Additionally, and perhaps most troubling for employers, a violation can occur when an employee loads copies of software from home onto a company’s computers, often without the knowledge or approval of the IT Department. Such software copying may in fact be illegal and the company is responsible for such actions.
Illegal software piracy can take many forms, including:
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