Is your licence out of date?

Your software licence fees help support the organisations who'll come after you if you displease them. Perhaps there are better ways

If property is theft, then intellectual property must be thought crime. How else to explain the seemingly inescapable link between IP and Orwellian organisations such as the RIAA, FAST, the BSA and so on? It seems that whoever uses IP becomes marked as a potential criminal, with the extent of our potential sins so great as to justify ever more draconian private armies and criminal laws.

Unsurprisingly, the tougher the vendors get with their customers the less the customers appreciate it. For example, our readers have characterised the BSA as "vicious bloodhounds" overcompensating for their masters' lack of value for money, with "tactics easily into the realm of harassment". Like all good private police forces, the BSA has never let facts get in the way of its enthusiasm for advancing the cause of its masters.

Such organisations are to lose one of their major reasons to exist. A forthcoming standard, ISO 19770, will help companies certify compliance with software asset management. Armed with that, the answer to a shakedown by a semi-official industry body can be as short and sharp as that which ended the celebrated case of Arkell v. Pressdram.

There are other benefits to knowing exactly what licences you have, not least that it brings home the exact cost of doing business in that way. While companies who make most of their money from licensing are quick to claim that licence costs are irrelevant compared to the other expenses of using IT, it's hard to be sure they have our best interests at heart when they say this. Actual figures help — as they do when renegotiating deals.

They also help when deciding whether per-seat licences are a sustainable model in the long term. As open source and service oriented models gain ground, the old idea of paying substantial sums on someone else's terms for something you can't freely use seems ever less appealing. Add the forthcoming complexities of virtualisation and many-core servers, and it seems as medieval as the selling of indulgences. And perhaps that's the best way of thinking of the copyright police — not as futuristic enforcers, but as throwbacks to feudalism. Time to join the modern world.