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Anti-Piracy group accused of 'intimidating' firms that can't fight back

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) investigates reports of unlicenced software use and often hits defaulting firms with fines. One company that's recently had to pay up describes the BSA as bullies who go after the small fry, while never targeting larger enterprises with legal departments and the resources to fight back. The BSA refutes this accusation saying it acts on "credible evidence" received about unlicensed software use.
9/22/2009 7:00:00 AM By: Brian Jackson

An anti-piracy group representing major software vendors is being criticized by a mid-sized manufacturing business that was forced to pay a large fine, and an Internet law expert.

Twelve Canadian companies have settled with the Business Software Alliance (BSA) for a combined total of more than $431,000, the BSA revealed last week.

Companies in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec were hit with fines for having unlicenced copies of software installed on their computers.

The heftiest fine of $128,800 went to Oldcastle, Ont.-based A.V. Gauge & Fixture, Inc. Now that firm says the BSA "intimidated" them and took advantage of the fact they didn't have a legal department.

“You get a threatening letter right out of the gate,” says Antosh Pieniazek, manager with A.V. Gauge & Fixture. “They're going after the small and middle-sized companies and intimidating them. We don't have the time or money to fight them, but I wish we did.”

BSA often acts on tips by current or former employees to the Alliance's hotline at 1-888-NO-PIRACY or its Web site -- Tipsters provide leads for companies using unlicenced software. From there, it sends a letter asking the company to perform an audit of its software and report back to the BSA, explains Jodie Kelley, general counsel and vice-president of anti-piracy.

“We work with the companies,” she says. “We can determine whether or not the audit is in the range of reasonableness.”

Companies always choose to work with the anti-piracy group rather than face going to court. Under Canadian law, a fine of $20,000 for each copy of software installed without a licence is possible.

BSA asks that companies comply by paying for the licences they need to for their use to be legal. Then they settle on a punitive fee for the unlicenced software.

A.V. Gauge & Fixture was fined for unlicenced copies of Microsoft and Autodesk software, Pieniazek says. He says the copies were not made intentionally, but because of poor IT policy at the company that saw computers passed on from the engineering department to other departments without formatting them.

“We didn't have an IT department, computers really aren't our gig,” he says. “We had two or three extra seats we weren't supposed to, but we weren't using them.”

The company has since put an IT department in place and reformed its process to avoid the same problem in the future, he adds.

First published September 22, 2009

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