As a business owner, you should know that you shouldn’t abuse the software licenses that your business relies on to function, or use pirated software to fulfill that need. While there are many people do such things, the response from software companies in an attempt to stop such activities has created a system that can award those who exploit it.
First off, we want to make it clear that we don’t condone software piracy or the use of pirated software. Having said this, we also can’t--in good conscience--condone the strategies used by those who fight software piracy, either. A prime example is the track record of BSA | The Software Alliance.
Who We are Dealing With
BSA is the title of an international advocacy group that fights for the proper licensing of software solutions meant for business purposes. Members of this group include many well-known faces, including IBM, Adobe, Trend Micro, Apple, and Microsoft. According to the organization’s website, BSA “pioneers compliance programs that promote legal software use and advocates for public policies that foster technology innovation and drive growth in the digital economy.”
Admittedly, this mission seems perfectly fine, even admirable, at first glance. However, BSA undermines their mission statement through the tactics they have been known to use to accomplish their less-publicized, primary goal: stomping out pirated software by any means necessary, while making any business that possesses unlicensed software pay a hefty, hefty fine.
Using Social Media to Bribe Their Target Audience
BSA targets businesses that are “under suspicion” of using unlicensed software. However, for them to do so, there needs to be a reason to suspect these businesses in the first place.
To get this “probable cause,” of sorts, BSA has historically turned to social media. Using the marketing platforms supplied by the social media sites, BSA once directly targeted their audience, promising a cash bounty to those who turned over a business that used pirated software. There is even a Facebook page devoted to this campaign that seems to have been abandoned, but still provides evidence that BSA was speaking to a very specific audience: the employees of the businesses that BSA was after.
After all, who would know better than an employee whether or not a business was using a piece of software with less-than-legitimate origins?
The trajectory of these campaigns has gone from blatant to subliminal, as BSA started off by running advertisements that encouraged an employee to “Nail your boss. Report Software Piracy.” More recently, BSA has used more targeted social media efforts to focus in on employees like yours, encouraging them to turn you in for your assumed software piracy in exchange for a cash bounty. These bounties are scaled to the amount in damages that the reported company pays BSA according to their settlement.
If someone were to blow the whistle on a company and the settlement came out to something between $15,000 to $100,000, they could receive a bounty of up to $5,000. However, if the company in question was on the hook for $15,000,000 or more, the whistleblower could see as much as $1,000,000 coming their way.
The thing is, according to BSA, the organization “reserves the right to deviate from that schedule in its sole discretion.” This means that, even if someone blew the whistle and reported a company that had to pay well over $15,000,000, BSA could decide to collect that money and stiff the whistleblower.
Why This Should Be Worrisome to You
If you’re the one responsible for the pirated software being on the system, you’re the one who is going to be held responsible. However, if one of your employees is responsible for pirated software being on the system, guess who is considered responsible then?
This is still the case if an employee uses the same software license on numerous devices within your business. What’s worse, if an employee who had done such things was ever to leave with a grudge, they could still be the one to report you.
So, if Pete ran a company, and Paul ran his IT, Pete would be the one that the BSA would go after if Paul installed pirated software on his network. In fact, if Pete was fined $25,000, Paul could expect a payout of a couple thousand dollars for an issue that he himself was responsible for causing.
Solving this Problem
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your network is completely free of unlicensed software. The way to achieve this is to run a comprehensive audit to identify and eliminate the kind of software that would interest BSA. As a result, even if BSA reached out, you could confidently welcome them in knowing that you wouldn’t be tripped up by something an employee did, either with malice or unintentionally.
For help with this audit and the removal of any unlicensed software there may be on your network, give Computerware a call at (703) 821-8200.