• United States

BSA wants disgruntled employees to snitch

Dec 19, 20054 mins

* The Business Software Alliance's lastest campaign to get legal takes on a dark tone

You’d better not steal, you’d better go buy, you’d better not copy, I’m telling you why – BSA is coming to town.

That’s BSA as in Business Software Alliance , the international organization dedicated to ending software piracy.  Its members are primarily commercial software companies that collectively lose an estimated $13 billion of revenue each year due to the illegal distribution and use of software.  The vast majority of those losses are due to companies or people installing software programs onto more computers than they have the legal right to as authorized by the software license agreement. 

Losses also stem from:

* Users taking advantage of upgrade offers without having a legal copy of the version to be upgraded.

* Users acquiring academic or other restricted or non-retail software without a license for commercial use.

* Pirate Web sites that make software available for free download or in exchange for uploaded programs.

* Internet auction sites that offer counterfeit, out-of-channel, infringing copyright software.

* Peer-to-peer networks that enable unauthorized transfer of copyrighted programs.

* Hardware sellers who pre-install software without the legal right to do so.

* The illegal duplication and sale of copyrighted material with the intent of directly imitating the copyrighted product.

Over the years, BSA has run various campaigns to encourage companies to “get legal.”  BSA has offered amnesty programs, whereby offenders could avoid prosecution if they agree to purchase legal software and destroy the pirated versions.  BSA has tried the “risk avoidance” approach, telling companies that pirated software could be dangerous and that only legal software can help protect their information assets.  The latest campaign, however, seems to have taken on a darker tone.

This morning on drive time radio (in Houston, Texas), I heard a message by BSA in which the organization seems to be appealing to disgruntled employees or ex-employees, encouraging them to turn in their companies for violating software copyright laws. The message said that people who turn in suspected wrongdoers may be eligible for a reward if the claim (1) is made by a certain December date, and (2) can be substantiated. Wow, what a tactic! Offering to pay people to rat out their employer! 

I couldn’t find any such offer on the BSA’s U.S.A. version of its Web site, but the Australia version of the site has this offer (as of December 7, 2005):  “Software theft is a major problem costing Australia around $220 million each year. Now we’re cracking down. There’s a $5,000* reward for information that leads to a successful action against a business entity using unauthorised software. To report illegal software usage, simply phone the BSAA [Business Software Association of Australia] hotline on 1800 021 143 or complete one of the following forms.”  The asterisk, of course, spells out the conditions that apply to this offer.

Now, there’s no valid reason for any company to steal the use of software, and I certainly don’t condone it.  However, I’m not sure I like the tactic of paying unhappy workers to do the dirty work of turning in violators.  There are some workers who would implicate their companies just for the hassle factor, whether or not there is evidence of illegal software.  I can attest to this, as a former employee of my own company threatened to submit an accusation to BSA.  I guess he felt this was a good way to “get even” for losing his job.  You see, when BSA suspects software piracy, it asks the subject company to conduct a voluntary audit, which obviously takes time and money and diverts attention from productive work to busy work – even if there is no evidence of wrongdoing, which of course, in our case, there isn’t.

I would hope your organization is clean when it comes to software licenses.  If you want to be sure by conducting your own audit, BSA offers some resources to help you.  It’s best to validate for yourself that everything is legal, because you never know when some ex-employee might be out for revenge and a chance for big reward money.