BSA, software giants target little guys

When it comes to unleashing lawyers to make sure users pay for their software, the industry's biggest players most frequently take aim at their smallest customers, according to Associated Press and an attorney I corresponded with about the matter.

From an AP story this morning:

An analysis by The Associated Press reveals that targeting small businesses is a lucrative strategy for the Business Software Alliance, the main global copyright-enforcement watchdog for such companies as Microsoft Corp., Adobe Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp.

Of the $13 million that the BSA reaped in software violation settlements with North American companies last year, almost 90 percent came from small businesses, the AP found.

The BSA contends that small businesses are most often targeted because small businesses most often use unlicensed software.

However, according to an attorney who represents companies that have drawn BSA attention, it is the offers of huge rewards - upwards of $1 million - that creates an irresistible temptation for IT execs to rat out employers, especially former employers.

"The most frequent targets of BSA cases are relatively small firms frequently with 10 to 100 employees," Rob Scott, an attorney with Scott & Scott, told me recently. "As a practical matter, these firms usually have one or two in-house IT executives."

Scott says his clients frequently suspect former employees dropped a dime on them.

"Many of my clients report that BSA investigations ensue shortly after the departure of the key IT person in the firm," he says. "While it is impossible to be 100% sure because BSA does not disclose its informants, my clients regularly report that they believe that the person that was the rat-out was responsible for maintaining compliance with software licensing and in some instances actually installed the infringing software products."

Screw up - unintentionally or worse - leave the job, snitch, collect the reward: Nice work if you can get it.

Of course, many of these complaints are simply the bogus whining of software pirates who knew better or should have known better ... and their irresponsible employers.

While the BSA's tactics continue to draw criticism, the organization does claim progress in its primary mission.

Overall, the BSA says the worldwide piracy rate is 35 percent, down from 43 percent in 1996. However, the group says that because the industry has grown in that time, software companies' annual piracy losses have quadrupled. The BSA says piracy took a $40 billion bite out of a $246 billion industry in 2006.

In the United States, where the piracy rate is a worldwide-low 21 percent, the BSA's strategy includes working with law enforcement and Web sites like eBay to stop suspiciously cheap software sales online.

Lose any key IT people lately?

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