Readers answer the Bully Software Alliance

* And Microsoft flat out lies about proof of software legality

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Before we get to reader comments about the Business Software Alliance, what I like to call the Bully Software Alliance  (see: The software protection racket, Part 1 & Part 2), let me highlight what Microsoft had to say about proving your software legal. When Microsoft cancelled - with two hours notice - a phone interview with an executive coordinating with the BSA, the company tried to blow more smoke: "We understand the importance of dated documents for customers, but believe that the BSA does not use a receipt as a proof of license." Wrong according to what the BSA told me directly. Receipts are demanded by the BSA during audits or they rule the software illegal, and they say that is based on instructions from Microsoft.

Now for your comments. One regular theme, not surprisingly, is an increased desire for less license hassle by using Open Source Software (OSS). Reader Brandon says, "Move to open source ASAP. Reasonable companies will adopt this new model (check out Novell, for example) and hopefully the crooks will go find some other scam. Google, SugarCRM, Open Office, Firefox .... you get the idea."

The next reader didn't leave a name, but the e-mail address is "Nerd." He or she gets more graphic than Brandon about the possibilities: "So the BSA says that even though I have paid full price for all the software I use, from reputable, official dealers (such as Dell), that I am still guilty of being a software pirate? Why then should I even try anymore? Why not buy from the street corner guy for $5 a disk? The end result, being found guilty, is the same, and getting actually pirated versions would save me tens of thousands per year. My actual solution now has become clearer: accelerate the move to open source for all my clients. Proprietary software companies have crossed the line; when they begin to interfere with and threaten businesses it is time to ‘just say no.’ Echoes of Nancy Reagan seem to fit, since the BSA acts like the violent drug dealers seen in movies when someone tries to push into their illegal action.”

An anonymous reader from Thailand, where piracy runs rampant, sends this long note: ”We operate in Thailand and have assisted a number of customers negotiate with the BSA after they had been raided. The BSA does not send any warning letters here. One day you see an army of people at your door, with a search warrant. The police are there together with a legal representative of the BSA and their Raid coordinator (no kidding, this is the title the guy who runs the show has on his business card).

“They spend the whole day searching all your computers, ignore any proof you have, and then give you a report of their findings. A few days later you get a demand for money, usually three times the value of individual piece of software they found. The calculation is always wrong because they break software into components, so Adobe CS would be turned into multiples pieces of software, thus quadrupling the real value.

“The demand is to purchase the full list of software and pay a fine of twice that amount. Then you enter into a negotiation by getting them to accept what was legitimate, then reduce the piracy to real software value. The fines usually are between $20K and $100K negotiated.

“The strategy being used is very hard, but on the other hand, very few companies pay for software in Thailand where you can get any movie or software for $2U.S. anywhere in the street. I can testify that the legitimate software here was never questioned, and any proof we brought has been accepted. So apart from the serious disruption to our customer's daily work and the image that it gives employees, they remained fair. The bit that really disturbs us is that any employee who is unhappy with the company can report his employer and cash in a huge sum of money, actually over 1 year of the salary of an engineer. And this is also the reason we assist all our customers to move to Open Office and Unix file servers, very successfully."

Reader Scott is an optimist: "Thank you for sharing your experience regarding the BSA. It has been on my mind for a long time, and hopefully it will be addressed with changes. If they continue, and people decline to buy proprietary software, then hardware manufacturers will have no choice but to provide better support for open source software."

It would be nice if Scott proved prescient, wouldn't it? But no major hardware vendor has stepped up with full support of Open Source Software.

Aussies sent many e-mails (thanks, mates). One from Reader Mark makes Australia sound much more sensible than the U.S. "It's well known in Australia that American organizations who try to sue in .au usually end up with hilarious quantities of egg on their faces when they realize (too late) that the system works a bit differently here." Different would be good. An honest system here would be even better.

Reader Bill wants the BSA to change their name, so their acronym doesn't confuse anyone about them being anything at all like the Boy Scouts of America. Certainly the BSA shows no Boy Scout values like honesty and integrity.

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