MT Expert - IT: The pitfalls of software piracy

The Business Software Alliance on why it has a zero tolerance policy with unlicensed software.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Businesses that use software for which they don’t own a licence face a bleak outlook.  Firstly, it’s illegal – so being caught could result in legal action, which is disruptive, costly and damaging to a business’s reputation. Unlicensed software use also comes with serious operational risks. And contrary to popular opinion, there are rarely short-term cost savings to be made by cutting back on licences – companies that manage their software licences can actually save money and exercise greater control over their IT, making them more efficient and competitive. That’s why the extent of software misuse in business is so surprising: analyst firm IDC calculates that more than one in four pieces of software in the UK is illegitimate.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is the voice of the software industry – a not-for-profit organisation that counts not only Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, and Symantec but also many smaller software companies among its 89 members worldwide. What businesses need to be know is that the BSA will pursue legal action on behalf of its members against companies that flout copyright law by using unlicensed software.

Being identified as a business using unlicensed software can be damaging on a number of levels. From a financial point of view, legal actions can be very costly, especially as such expense is unlikely to be budgeted for in advance. For instance, the BSA recently announced settlements with three London-based companies to a cumulative value of £100,000.

A business’ reputation would also seriously suffer if it was penalised for copyright infringement, resulting in bad publicity and a negative impression. In an economy where competition for new business is fierce, companies cannot afford to act in a way that would undermine their professional status.

Despite these deterrents, most businesses are probably, and unknowingly, breaching copyright law. When you are busy or distracted, it is too easy to delay or overlook the requirement to carry out regular software audits. However, in this economic climate, there is an even greater incentive to implement best practice. For instance, recently redundant employees might be more tempted to take advantage of the financial reward offered by the BSA to report on organisations using illegal software.

There is also a compelling business continuity reason for striving for full compliance. Illegal software can contain pre-loaded malicious software, trojans and viruses. Unlicensed software is not always eligible for manufacturer patches, leaving computers vulnerable to infection, subsequent data loss, and possible system failure. The consequences of this would be disastrous, especially for those that do not have robust back-up systems in place (which tends to be the case for many small businesses). When you consider the mass of valuable information and work saved on computers, the prospect of losing all that data could be ruinous.

Finally consider the financial benefits of taking a considered and thorough approach to software management. Many businesses have more software licences than they need. Businesses that take stock of their software are better able to identify programs that are surplus to requirements, offering an opportunity to cut back on their licence costs legally.

We urge all organisations to give serious attention to the issue of software abuse. To help put things into perspective, businesses would do well to regard software management in a similar vein to how they approach health and safety – which is not about regulation for regulation’s sake, but protecting organisations against accusations of negligence further down the line. We may have a zero tolerance approach to software piracy, but we also act with business’ best interests in mind.

Julian Swan is the director for compliance marketing EMEA at the Business Software Alliance.

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