NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has defended secretly settling a copyright dispute over the licensing of Micro Focus' ViewNow software, stating that the agreement does not imply an admission of guilt.
Micro Focus is seeking over $10 million in damages from the New South Wales Police Force for providing Micro Focus' ViewNow software to more users than it had licences for. The NSW Police Force believed that it had a site licence for the software to cover all of its users, but Micro Focus has alleged that the law-enforcement agency only had 6500 licences, and that it well exceeded that amount, providing it to around 16,000 users.
Micro Focus also targeted the offices of the NSW Ombudsman, the Department of Corrective Services and the Police Integrity Commission, which all settled the matter out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Speaking before a NSW parliamentary committee that oversees the ombudsman's office, Barbour said that the decision to settle the matter does not imply guilt.
"My primary concern was that my organisation must at all times represent integrity and ethical behaviour," he said. "From a practical perspective, we wanted to use all of our licences, [and] the legal costs associated with it would have been far and away greater than the costs of settling this matter.
"Can I just say that Police clearly deny that they have been pirating software."
Barber said that when his office was first supplied with ViewNow for use with the NSW Police Force's Computerised Operational Police System (COPS) database — which the ombudsman has access to for his police-oversight role — the agency made it clear that the licences were paid for.
"The ViewNow software was provided to our office by Police some time ago, under the clear agreement that Police was paying for 25 licences.
"I'm not in a position to confirm whether or not there is substance to the case that has been put forward by Micro Focus; that will be determined by the court," he said.
If the court rules that the NSW Police Force was in breach, Barber said that the case could end up before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
But committee chair Catherine Cusack suggested that if another secret settlement was reached with the NSW Police Force, there would be no way for the public to know whether the law had been breached, which would cast doubt on its integrity.
"The police are the ones who have to investigate piracy allegations, so their understanding of piracy is obviously pretty critical to the enforcement of anti-piracy around the state," she said. "[A settlement] creates the perception that there is validity to the claim.
"How can the public be confident that the police have the correct understanding of anti-piracy laws and are investigating them correctly?"
Barbour said that this question would need to be addressed once the litigation has been completed — and if any government agency is found to have acted in breach of their contractual obligations around software licensing, then a complaint could be referred to ICAC. At this stage, he said that his office has not referred the matter to ICAC.
In April, it was reported that Micro Focus intends to bring new claims against the NSW Police, alleging that the law-enforcement agency deleted some copies of the ViewNow software in a move to cover its tracks.