BYOD could open businesses to copyright litigation: BSA

BYOD could open businesses to copyright litigation: BSA

Summary: Most businesses know that using pirated software can land them in hot water, but many don't realise that their employees could also open the door to expensive litigation via BYOD schemes, according to Business Software Alliance chair Clayton Noble.


Most businesses are aware of the repercussions of using pirated or counterfeit software; however, with the consumerisation of IT, many employees may be opening up their employers to increased liability without the business even knowing it.

Speaking to ZDNet, Business Software Alliance (BSA) chair Clayton Noble said that while businesses that are purposely doing the wrong thing could extend their liability to their employees by providing pirated software to their staff, the opposite is also true, where employees could place the business at risk.

He said that companies that fail to put in place proper policies to ensure its software is genuine and licensed could be putting themselves at risk of "authorising infringement" by allowing their employees to use pirated software for work.

"The person that commits the copyright infringement is liable under Australian copyright law, but also under Australian copyright law, any business or person that authorises the infringement is itself liable for the infringement."

While each company's IT department may be well aware of how each piece of software's end-user licence agreement dictates its use, this understanding could be different for individual employees who, upon purchasing an application, do not realise, or may have forgotten after they've installed it, that it may not be suitable for commercial use.

"Some offer, for example, student licences that are for use by students only in connection with their education, and if a student brings a device into the workplace and starts using it commercially, it may be that the person is breaching their licence and breaching copyright. [In that case] the business will be infringing copyright by authorising that by not having proper checks on whether the software used for the benefit of its business is being properly licensed."

Noble said that the best way to ensure that the business and its employees are in the clear is to conduct regular checks of employee devices, but highlighted that whether or not the device is supplied by the employer, a degree of sensitivity is needed, since these devices often contain personal information.

"It may be that businesses who permit people to use their own devices, or as part of that policy, say exchange for that is the understanding that the business is going to have to look at your device to check that what you're bringing on to work systems is safe, secure, and genuinely licensed. That's a really tricky issue for IT managers to deal with."

Noble also highlighted that pirated software makes the already complex issue of securing the corporate network from any security holes in personal devices even more complicated. He said that in some cases, the process of circumventing checks for genuine software has also meant that software could not be updated to patch security holes.

"Sometimes it has malware embedded in it, because the criminal syndicates that engage in piracy and distribution and creation of pirated software sometimes also make money by distributing botnets, distributing keylogging software, [and] all sorts of other security risks that a user who installs pirated software may not be bargaining on."

Microsoft's own 2011 study (PDF) into the security of pirated versions of its operating system found that about a quarter of all illegal installations were either already infected with malware out of the box, or downloaded and installed malware upon first finding an internet connection.

Topics: Bring Your Own Device, Legal, Malware, Security, Australia

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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  • BSA

    Oooooooh. Scarrrrry.

    Um, unless people jail-break their mobile, the applications that came from the platforms' app stores are licensed.

    Besides, if I were to put a pirated game on my iPhone, how would the employer be causing me to infringe?

    Adobe, Microsoft, and Apple are big players at the BSA. Two of them have mobile devices and app stores. File this under Tides, King Canute Commanding.
    • It's not just mobiles ...

      BYOD isn't just mobiles though. It's devices, i.e. a range of technologies. There is plenty of scope for employees to install unlicensed software on their own tablets etc., and they may then use that software for business purposes.

      However in the long term I doubt the solution is for employers to conduct checks on their employees' devices. More likely this is just another example of liability law lagging behind changes in technology.
      • Mobile includes LAPTOPS

        And pirated software/music/video is not the only liability for a company.
        • As the article points out

          there could be cases of software licensed "For non-commercial use only".

          The backup program i use is free for individual non-commercial use, but you gotta pay to use it at your business.
  • FUD !

    Nice try MS.
    Alan Smithie
    • Why do you think MS make the licensing for Office so peculiar?

      License for HOME use only... use it for anything at your own risk...
      License for EDUCATION use only... use it for anything at your own risk.

      Does creating a resume count as business???
  • Proprietary Software Sucks

    You pay for it but you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to use it and risk criminal liability if you displease the real owners. I try to avoid using proprietary software - but because so many others use it there is still software one is forced to use - mainly MS Word.
  • Looks like the same old BS from the BSA...

    Or, you could use "Open Source"... except that the proprietary, closed-source, monopolies that make up the "BSA", also claim that not using, "Genuine" software from their masters... also "opens you up" to "copyright-liability".
    Gayle Edwards
  • BSA Extorts Businesses

    Everyone is aware that the BSA is not a government organization? That it has no law enforcement authority? That it is a private, for-profit business? That absent a warrant, which must by law specify exactly what, who, why, and where something is to be searched for, the BSA is powerless?

    Yet it continues to succeed at extorting "hush" money form various organizations due to the costs of lawyers. Which are the types who make up the BSA. Almost as bad as cops confiscating property for personal reward.

    A place I worked received an initial threat letter from the BSA. They claimed to be acting for Microsoft, so, being a Microsoft partner, we contacted Microsoft and were told in no uncertain terms that the BSA was lying. Our answer was that if they had a warrant, we'd talk, otherwise they could take a flying leap, and that if they made any further threats, we would subpoena them. Suffice to say, we never heard from the BSA again.
  • Yay for the BSA...

    ... and note that the BS in BSA doesn't stand for Business Software. Never has, never will.