Have the right licence to operate or face the consequences

Opinion by Dan Raywood

This week saw the culmination of a two-month campaign to combat unlicensed software use in London by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

This week saw the culmination of a two-month campaign to combat unlicensed software use in London by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

It claimed that one in five pieces of software in the capital is being used illegally, amounting to an annual lost revenue of £149 million and representing what it claimed was a significant threat to London's business environment. It has used the campaign to ‘encourage businesses to purchase software from reputable sources and demonstrate best-practice software management'.

In fact it concluded the campaign with a settlement of £10,000 with Archetype Associates after the architectural firm was allegedly caught with under-licensed copies of Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk AutoCAD on seven computers.

The BSA's London campaign was launched at the start of June 2009 to increase awareness of the threats associated with unlicensed software use. It claimed that in addition to the legal costs that businesses could face if using unlicensed software, numerous other hidden costs could occur, including data loss, file corruption, security issues, and the negative effects of reputational damage.

The concept of unlicensed software is one that is steadily covered and discussed in conversations; the question is probably one of neglect rather than intentional malice. After all, who is willingly going to put themselves in a position where an auditor is going to find out that they are using unlicensed or illegal software?

A survey by FAST this week found that the number of organisations being audited by their software vendor has increased by almost 50 per cent. It claimed that the figure supports recent evidence of a change in the software compliance landscape, with audits on the increase as over the last six to 12 months, nearly 17 per cent of FAST's respondents said they had faced an audit.

Andy Pearce, managing director at FAST Ltd, claimed that there continues to be a ‘considerable risk associated with non-compliance', and that the threat of a fine or a reputational slur should not be the sole driver for compliance.

Pearce said: “In uncertain times, what organisations must get from their IT estate is predictability and reassurance, not unexpected, unbudgeted costs.  Similarly organisations want to ensure that they are not spending money on software licensing unnecessarily, so software asset management and compliance become even more pertinent as organisations attempt to rein in their costs during a recession.”

I recently spoke to John Lovelock, chief executive of FAST IiS (the federation against software theft and investors in software), who claimed that this is the biggest problem in software misuse, particularly with the overuse of licenses and certainly with cases of neglect the cause rather than criminal misuse.

Lovelock said: “If a member of your staff uses illegal software you can face a fine as a company and if you used it knowingly, in business it is an offence. You never own the software; you own the right to use it. No one has been jailed in my experience for licence misuse; they usually get found out and go for a settlement as that is enough of a deterrent to keep their name out of the press.”

Commenting, David Quantrell, EMEA president at McAfee, claimed that unlicensed software not only presents significant challenges for organisations in the software industry, but also for their much-valued customers.

Quantrell said: “In an area like security, where the threat landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, correctly licensed software provides customers with the level of support required as they work to protect their data, intellectual property and infrastructure from new and emerging security risks.”

As well as the problems for a company in terms of legality, there is also the dilemma of illegal or counterfeit software, creeping into the company. In the best-case scenario, the software is used and the company only realises it when they come to contact the vendor. In the worst case, the software could be dreaded ‘rogue anti-virus'.

Lovelock claimed that there were two issues to consider with illegal software - piracy and counterfeiting.

Lovelock said: “Counterfeit software is coming out of pressing plants abroad but we have seen that it is being mixed in with the original stuff and it is a problem, I am not sure how but it is an issue as it looks like the original software as the artwork is good but the only difference is that there is no serial numbers.

“With piracy and online software I would advise you check what you buy, you are strongly advised against buying from an unknown reseller and don't know the veracity of the software. When you buy you should buy from a reputable reseller, if you think it is too good to be true it probably is, check the name of the company before you buy from them.”

In agreement was Chris Holland, global vice president for software rights management at SafeNet, who claimed that in international markets, vendors do not have the ability to enforce against copyright piracy.

Holland said: “If you're not protecting software from being copied illegally the net result is dangerous, people may buy this unaware that it is pirated and call customer services to solve problems, you lose control of the products and name. If someone can get into the software then the integral part of the product for the company is gone, and it is now available around the world.”

It is easy to say that you should keep up to date and not exceed your software licence allowance; it is the same as saying you should not click on malicious links and change your password every 48 hours.

When it comes to the use of illegal software though, it really does come down to purchasing from a reputable source and ensuring that you are using the genuine article. To have your reputation tarnished by a simple error can be very damaging, from several perspectives.


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