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Business Software Alliance
Are they white knights...
TallTroll




msg:789545
 3:51 pm on Nov 26, 2001 (gmt 0)

or are they actually peasants? Their site at www.bsa.org has a lot of stuff about how they are "cracking down on pirates", but what worries me is that they are

1) Sending out frankly threatening letters to companies in the UK (some of my clients among them) with vague mention of dire consequences for having unlicenced software

2) Providing a financial incentive for employees to shop their own company (up to 10,000)

3) Boasting of the large cases and settlements they have obtained

If you dig around you will find this

The Business Software Alliance is the voice of the world's software and Internet industry before governments and with consumers in the international marketplace. Its members represent the fastest growing industry in the world. BSA educates computer users on software copyrights; advocates public policy that fosters innovation and expands trade opportunities; and fights software piracy.

The member list includes most of the big s/ware houses, and it strikes me that BSA is being used as an attack dog by these companies to keep their names out of some messy court cases etc.

Point 2 has potential if you don't like your company directors, because when the company is sued they are sued. Hands up all those who ever wanted to get paid for screwing up a disliked director? Uh-huh, thought so.

Now, I'm against software piracy (even of M$ products although why we should be expected to PAY for THAT escapes me) but it seems to me that the sequence of events could look like this:

1) You get your "friendly self-help" pack from the BSA
2) You fill it in and send it back
3) You get sued for not realising you have the wrong licence type, or wrong number of user licences for one or more packages

A smallish business can be crippled by this. Disgruntled employees could rat on their co-workers for putting copies of games their work machines for lunchtime use, or the SysAdmin for installing an 11th copy of Office on a 10 user licence etc

Like I say, I'm against software piracy (and to the best of my knowledge, we are completely legal), and I understand the need for controls, but isn't this just a bit over the top? Does anyone else know anything about them? Am I being unfair?

 

mestiphal




msg:789546
 7:29 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

A friend of mine had to deal with these people about nine months ago. They got ratted out by an employee who had been laid off.

The BSA's claim that they somehow help consumers is patently false -- do you know who pays for these "rewards"? Do you know who pays BSA employee salaries?

Can you guess?

Not suprisingly, money comes from all the software manufacturers who they represent. This represents a conflict of interest to me; they are not an objective and independant third party. They are tool of license enforcement and compliance.

They make money directly from the fines imposed on violators of licenses -- usually some sort of percentage. Microsoft has its own "auditors" who make the majority of their living in this fashion, and that normally translates to taking interest in those companies far out of compliance. The bigger the fine, the bigger their profit margin.

That said, I won't argue that many of the companies who are targeted are in fact in violation of the license agreements. In the case of my friend's employer, they had installed various Microsoft products from the MSDN many, many times more than they had licenses for. As a dotcom startup, they knew what they were doing was wrong but felt not being able to afford the licenses was a "justifacation". They got what was coming to them.

What bothers me is the strong-arm style the BSA uses: the first step is always the vaguely threatening letter. It goes quickly downhill from there. In the USA, agreeing to the software license on install usually means you have implicitly given the BSA permission to "crack your walnuts" if the need arises -- or if a disgruntled employee feels the need for a cash "bonus".

I know a couple of other people who had the BSA come down on them, only to find they were never in violation of their licenses. Someone had simply accused them, and the Inquistion started.

Software pirates being chased down by the Software Gestapo -- it's a strange world we live in sometimes ;)

mivox




msg:789547
 7:38 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

I won't argue that many of the companies who are targeted are in fact in violation of the license agreements

I will. ;)

I've heard numerous reports that, by the BSA's own admission, they send out mass mailings in targeted areas almost completely at random, with no real idea of who may or may not be in "violation" of anything, and furthermore they have no intention of following through on their threats...

It's a scare tactic designed to intimidate "violators" into "coming clean," with no real legal force or intent of enforcement behind it. It's probably a very cost-effective license compliance campaign for the sponsoring software companies, but I definitely object to the pseudo-law-enforcement intimidation tactics being used.

mestiphal




msg:789548
 8:36 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

It's a scare tactic designed to intimidate "violators" into "coming clean," with no real legal force or intent of enforcement behind it.

Not precisely true...in my friend's case, the BSA's enforcers came into their shop with legal warrants backed up by two U.S. Marshals. Sure looks like "legal" force to me.

Could be that there was definite merit to the accusation in this case though :)

mivox




msg:789549
 8:53 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

Well, having someone actually reporting a company for licensing violations is likely a totally different matter than the BSA's notorious regional bulk mail/radio ad/television campaigns, with the whole "turn yourself in during our grace period and we won't hunt you down later" B.S.

They're not out hunting people down, and just because you get a form letter doesn't mean they'll be knocking on your door. But, if your company make a habit of large scale software priacy, I would recommend trying to make sure your current and former employees aren't disgruntled about anything.

mestiphal




msg:789550
 9:22 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

I would recommend trying to make sure your current and former employees aren't disgruntled about anything.

Good luck :)

You know, the worst part of it is that many companies unintentionally fubar their licensing by not paying close enough attention to how many copies of what are installed, and how many they're entitled to.

But the BSA, parasites that they are, can and do profit from that lack of attention to detail. It's avoidable, though; just alarmingly easy to screw it up.

In any case, to answer the original question:

A smallish business can be crippled by this. Disgruntled employees could rat on their co-workers for putting copies of games their work machines for lunchtime use, or the SysAdmin for installing an 11th copy of Office on a 10 user licence etc

Like I say, I'm against software piracy (and to the best of my knowledge, we are completely legal), and I understand the need for controls, but isn't this just a bit over the top? Does anyone else know anything about them? Am I being unfair?

It's more than a bit over the top -- it's borderline criminal behavior (read: extortion or "protection schemes"). Why their methods are considered legal (in the US anyway), is beyond me.

toolman




msg:789551
 9:34 pm on Nov 29, 2001 (gmt 0)

I think if they want to enforce software "licenses" they should be required to present a title of ownership much like a real estate closing.

The present system of buy it, bringing it home and then forcing me to agree to something I'm not reading anyway without notifying me of the legal consequences is a mistake that could be ultimately won in the courts.

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