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The dirty side of software piracy, part 2

Are you using illegal software and don't know it? Do you know there's a stiff penalty for piracy? It's time to wise up, then, because an audit from the Business Software Alliance can be very unpleasant.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) isn't going to throw you in jail, but it will throw huge fines your way if it catches you using illegal software, according to Evan Leibovitch of the Linux Professional Institute.

Some organizations may be using illegal software but not know it. Or, they may not know there is a stiff penalty for piracy. It's time to wise up, though, because being audited by the BSA can be very unpleasant, said Leibovitch. His company --Thornhill, Canada-based Starnix, a Linux VAR -- helped start the "Stay Legal -- Use Free Software" campaign.

In the second part of this series, Leibovitch explains why software piracy is unacceptable, and he details the goals of two other organizations dedicated to stopping it. In part one, Leibovitch discussed the "Stay Legal - Use Free Software" campaign and how organizations can expect to move from Windows-based infrastructures to open source.

SWM: What is software piracy?

Software piracy is any use of software that is beyond the allowable terms of the software license under which it's delivered. That could mean that you agree to pay for a license to use the software and either you don't pay for its use or you copy it. The license is a contract between the supplier of the software and the user of it. It outlines the terms under which the software can be used, copied and so on. The most common thing is taking software from someone else who has paid for and making illegal copies of it.

SWM: Do software pirates only steal software from people they know?

There are many different variations. It could be someone you know or somebody that puts it on a Web site and you download it. It could be someone who buys one copy of software for a license and loads it on every desktop in the office. There are companies that will make bootleg copies of software and pass it off as genuine articles. There are other people who will knowingly make copies of commercial software beyond what they're licensed to use.

SWM: Who does it hurt to re-install software on multiple machines without having all the licenses?

If you are using commercial software it should be used as the supplier intended. When you have the license, you agree that you buy a copy of a word processing software and you agree to use it under the terms of the license. Either that contract is acceptable or it isn't. That is clearly a case of right and wrong. This isn't just an issue of software. This is an issue of just about anything from which you make an agreement with someone. Do you keep or do you break the agreement?

SWM: What steps does the BSA take when it suspects a company can't prove it has licenses for all the software it uses?

The BSA will send warnings to companies they believe are abusing software. They even have gone as far as using snitch lines. They will sometimes ask companies to audit themselves or they may subject companies to an audit. This really turns into a guilty until proven innocent issue. You're considered a pirate unless you can provide the paperwork.

So, the ramifications are a fine, penalty and certainly the cost and inconvenience of performing a software licensing audit, whether done internally or imposed. There are companies that make software that checks the software that you can buy, another added cost. Some companies have been fined and forced to pay the estimated value of the either illegal or unverifiable licenses.

SWM: What is a snitch line?

It is a toll-free line that encourages people to call and complain about companies they believe are using illegal software.

SWM: Can you describe the main goals of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the Canadian Alliance of Software Theft (CAAST) organizations?

I believe the SIIA works hand-in-hand with the BSA. The CAAST is the Canadian partner of the BSA. There are many international partners that try and advance the cause of reducing software piracy: running snitch lines, auditing companies and exacting penalties and fines where necessary. The CAAST has aggressively gone after companies that they know to be using illegal software. They have exacted fines and retroactive licensing fees and they have a snitch line. If you're mad at your employer, call the snitch line and tell the CAAST they're using illegal software.

SWM: How does encouraging the use of open source software stop software piracy?

It eliminates software piracy because open source licensing deliberately allows people take one CD and use it on every machine in the office at no penalty or extra cost. The whole concept of open source software is to increase sharing of the software, not to limit it. You don't have to worry about if you bring in another computer, do you have to buy more licenses or so on.


Read part one of this series here

What are you thoughts on software piracy? Do you take the BSA's threats of an audit seriously? Talk back in our discussion forum.

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