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The Business Software Alliance is scaring users into conducting audits of their computing infrastructure which could leave them open to prosecution, according to a leading law firm.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has just launched a campaign to encourage companies to check on their licences. It is sending a letter to every company with over 20 employees, along with an audit form.
The letter says the audit should be treated as seriously as a tax return and that it must be filled in by 30 November.
But the BSA does not have any statutory powers to make such demands, and furthermore does not state what it will do with the information.
It is entirely possible that a company that admits it is using illegal software - however unintentionally - could be prosecuted.
As legal firm DLA says, by returning the audit form in good faith companies could simply be providing the BSA with the evidence it needs to take action against them.
Sian Croxon, a partner at the firm, is urging people not to fill in the form.
She said: "The impression given is that the audit is obligatory. However, there is no indication in the letter of how the BSA will treat people who do return the audit.
"In the past the BSA has been known to name and shame companies without correct licensing arrangements, and once they get hold of something they don't let go," she said.
David Rippon, chairman of the IT directors' association Elite, has refused to comply with the BSA request.
He said: "I do not see it as necessary that I should reply to a third party about private concerns that are commercial arrangements between me and software companies," he said.
The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) also disapproves of the BSA's approach.
Richard Willmott, UK managing director for FAST corporate services, advised the organisation's members to throw any audit letter from the BSA in the bin.
"We don't recognise BSA's approach. We provide an external third party validation that the ongoing management of software is under control, as opposed to writing 'yes, I've got 10 bits of software' on a piece of paper," he said.
Mike Newton, BSA programme manager, is convinced his organisation's approach is valid. "In our experience, if we write a friendly letter saying 'hello chaps', it doesn't even make it past the secretary," he said.
"A past misunderstanding is that FAST have said if companies admit they have illegal software, we'll take them to court. We approach companies because we have the power of attorney on behalf of our clients."
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