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For quite some time now I have had a vague notion to write about so-called “software piracy”. That vague notion has sharpened into a resolve to write about Proprietary Closed Source Software (PCSS), “software piracy”, GNU/Linux, Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and your business.
One of the enforcers of PCSS licenses is the Business Software Alliance (BSA) founded by Microsoft and containing a Who’s Who list of IT industry leaders. The BSA encourages “informants” a.k.a. “rats” to contact them and for a promise of compensation to confidentially turn in businesses practicing “software piracy”. It is highly likely that any business on Earth using PCSS software is not fully “in compliance” with the Draconian software restrictions of PCSS licenses. As a result any company that uses PCSS software and has employees or hires outside IT contractors must have some concern about this. There is no other way to look at it and be safe.
Following is an example of a “software piracy” rat turning in a company that was “pirating” software. Listen below to the BSA “Interview” with this “Informant”.
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As an outside consultant for small businesses I find that little “interview” disturbs me personally on a deep level. When I work for a small business that I can determine is not in compliance with some software license my first inclination is not, “Hey, I’ll call the BSA and get in line for my million!”. My response is to pull the business owner aside and explain to him or her the dangers inherent in having non-compliant software, employees, outside contractors and the BSA. In almost all cases where I have done this the owner was grateful and wanted to make things right. In the very few cases where the owner knew about the problem and was fine with it I eventually quit doing business with that client. In the latter cases I never was inclined to rat on them.
I have a serious problem with the idea of being a “software piracy” rat, so I just will not do it. But, that does not mean if you are my client you are safe from “Joan” over in accounting who you just had to discipline for updating her Facebook page on the job. Dear “Joan” may decide she is going to quit and has to “get even” with you. “Joan” knows you have some software licensing problems and knows that the BSA will pay her to rat on you. So “Joan” contacts the BSA and rats on you. Then the BSA goons show up at your door with Federal Marshalls and a warrant.
I suspect that more often than not a “software piracy” rat is going to be an upset employee or ex-employee. Of course the BSA example “software piracy” rat in the “interview” above is supposedly an outside contractor or consultant that turned in one of the companies that trusted him. Obviously, if true, this means if you own a business you must worry about anyone that has access to your computer systems deciding to shoot for getting some BSA cash for turning you in. Do you think that cannot happen to you? Do not bet your business on that. Go read about Ernie Ball Incorporated , then do some rethinking of your position.
Do I advocate “software piracy” of PCSS? No, I do not. No matter what my personal feelings are on the matter I do not advocate breaking the law in the case of PCSS. What I do advocate is taking a serious look at FOSS instead. One cannot “pirate” that which is “free”. Sure, one can violate the terms of an open source license and be liable in court, but not as just an end-user.
Here are some examples to consider.
Do you have a license for 10 copies of Microsoft Office? Is it installed on 12 computers but only used on 9 of those computers? You are not in compliance with the licensing terms so a rat may decide to turn you in to the BSA for some cash. However, if you switch to the OpenOffice.org office suite and erase all those copies of Microsoft Office then you will have no more worries about licence incompliance for your office suite.
Do you have any PCs with XP Professional? When you have to reinstall those do you make sure that no two PC systems have the same license key? If not, then you may be out of compliance with the license terms for XP Professional and a rat may decide to contact the BSA about you. But if you erase XP Professional from your hard drives and install Mandriva, or Ubuntu, or Fedora or any of hundreds of FOSS GNU/Linux distributions you will no longer need to be concerned about a visit from Federal Marshalls and the BSA.
Do you use Adobe Photoshop in your graphics business? Did you make certain that Photoshop was deleted from those 8 old PC systems inherited by the accounting department when your graphics artists got all new systems? No? Then you are out of compliance and “Joan” in accounting has just decided you are getting a visit from the BSA when she quits. Although, if you get rid of Photoshop on Microsoft for The GIMP on GNU/Linux you do not have to worry about a visit from the BSA because you forgot to remove The GIMP when your PC systems found a new department in which to live.
Wait! Before all you graphic “arteests” start whining, again, about Photoshop versus The GIMP think about this. As an individual you can have a say in development of The GIMP. You can join the project and help get in the features you want to see. On the other hand you as an individual have almost no chance of affecting the development of Photoshop, unless you work for Adobe. See? That is how FOSS projects work (usually) versus how PCSS projects work (usually).
My final solution to “software piracy”? Leave the PCSS behind and do a complete switch to FOSS. Ernie Ball Incorporated did and as far as I can tell from all reports I can find they are better off after doing so.
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Edit Sat Sep 26 16:36:03 CDT 2009: Fix a repeated sentence.