In two recent articles, we offered one network
admin’s experience with software licensing compliance
and then shared
to the article. The responses to these articles indicate a
couple of things: Software licensing compliance remains a challenge, and many
members don't fully understand the role of the Business Software Alliance (BSA)
software companies’ intellectual property rights or its authority to ensure that
business users do not violate licensing agreements. To ensure that your company
remains in compliance and doesn’t suffer the consequences of a BSA audit, you
need to know the facts about the BSA and the actions it takes to enforce
in the United States, Europe, and Asia, the BSA was established in 1988 to serve
the interests of software and e-commerce developers in the international
marketplace and currently represents those interests in 65 countries worldwide.
Robert Kruger is the BSA’s vice president of enforcement for its North America
Anti-Piracy Campaign. He said that the BSA was originally established in
response to the concerns of software developers about the lack of protections
for commercial products overseas.
“In 1988, these companies looked to
Europe and Asia as the next frontier for their commercial operations, and they
were rightfully terrified by what they saw. They saw no protections in place for
the types of products they sold.”
Thus, the BSA was initially established
to develop the kinds of property protections in foreign markets that covered the
companies’ products in the United States. It wasn’t until five years later, in
1993, that the BSA actually launched its North American campaign against
The BSA’s biggest strength is perhaps its
membership, and two of the companies that were among the original founders
remain powerful members: Microsoft and Autodesk.
“Just about every other
company has undergone some kind of a change in corporate identity, so that we
now have, at least on the face of it, a different roster of members,” Kruger
The BSA’s current membership boasts
the biggest companies in the computer industry. In addition to Microsoft, it
includes Adobe, Apple, and IBM, companies whose presence in international
markets demands some kind of protections for their properties. Kruger said that
as a result of the BSA’s efforts, most countries in the international
marketplace now have laws in place designed to protect the intellectual property
rights of software and e-commerce developers.
The strength of its membership has
helped the BSA grow into a powerful organization that is increasingly flexing
its muscles to fight software piracy and maintain licensing compliance among
business users. Kruger said that the BSA is best known today for its efforts to
enforce software licensing laws.
“We are viewed by many as the software
police, the organization that will, in fact, investigate and pursue instances of
infringement that come to its attention.”
Perhaps the most potent action
the BSA takes is the auditing of companies under investigation for possible
software license infringements. When the BSA has obtained adequate evidence to
pursue a case, it will obtain court orders to conduct audits of the software
installed on company computers. Kruger emphasized that this occurs only in cases
where the BSA has gathered enough evidence to show that a company has violated
software license agreements.
“We try very hard here to make sure that
we’re only proceeding on the basis of reliable information.”
Information on possible
violations typically arrives via the BSA’s piracy hotline or its Web site. In
most cases, Kruger said, the callers are either current or former employees of
the companies they are reporting. He acknowledged that many are former employees
who feel they’ve been wronged by the companies in some way.
that there are plenty of employees with an axe to grind who actually have very
good, credible, detailed information. The challenge for the BSA, of course, is
to separate out the disgruntled employees with good information from the
disgruntled employees with bad information.”
Only when the BSA has
established that the information is credible does it begin to take action
against the targeted company. After the preliminary investigation, which
includes obtaining a detailed statement from the caller and checking
registration records with the software company whose licenses are being
violated, the BSA contacts the company to give it the opportunity to cooperate
in the investigation. At this point, however, the BSA has already built a solid
case of license infringement against the company and will likely end up levying
fines against it.
“If a company is being contacted by the BSA either
directly or through our lawyers, it’s usually too late for the company to simply
get into compliance; it's too late to do what they should’ve done in the first
The consequences of noncompliance
What can happen
if you fail to comply with the licensing agreements for the software you use?
Consider the case of Washington, DC-based Adrenaline Group Inc., a software
development and Web consulting company. In May 2001, the company agreed to pay
$103,000 to the BSA to settle a claim that it was using unlicensed commercial
software. A Washington Post article reported that Adrenaline Group was
among hundreds of companies that were tipped off to the BSA via its piracy
After being contacted by the BSA, Adrenaline Group conducted an
internal audit and found it was using more copies of particular programs than it
had licenses for. Adrenaline said that the software licensing issue was
unintentional and arose as a consequence of the company’s rapid growth.
According to Kruger, this is the case for many of the companies the BSA has
investigated. Companies that run into problems aren't necessarily bad—they just
haven't paid enough attention to their software licensing.
When the BSA has established solid evidence of violations and contacted the
company, the company must take steps to get into compliance. It will also have
to pay fines for the violations.
Kruger said that the violating company
must take these actions to resolve the case:
- Delete any illegal software after the matter has been resolved.
- Legally purchase the needed software in the market.
- Pay the BSA to release the company from liability.
they pay us,” Kruger said, “is what they could’ve saved themselves if they had
made sure that they were in compliance. And that amount can be very significant.
We’ve had companies pay hundreds and hundreds of thousands of
He said that the BSA typically announces settlements in 40 to
50 cases per year in the United States alone, but it doesn't report all
BSA is best known for its enforcement of software licensing agreements, Kruger
said the organization now spends as much if not more on education and compliance
assistance. The BSA offers free
tools that companies can use to track software licenses. Rather than pursue
action against companies that are not complying with software licenses, the BSA
would much prefer seeing the companies abide by the agreements. To that end, the
BSA is taking a number of steps to improve public awareness of software
licensing issues and of the value of protecting intellectual property
The BSA has become
a powerful organization that works actively to protect the intellectual property
rights of software and e-commerce developers. The organization’s goal is to
create a better environment where companies can sell their software products
without fear of losing money to piracy. It hopes to accomplish this goal by:
- Educating users about software copyrights.
- Promoting awareness of software’s role in the economy.
- Offering tools to track software licenses.
- Fighting software piracy through its enforcement
Companies need to understand that tracking licenses and
abiding by license agreements is an essential part of using the software. They
must realize that the consequences of noncompliance can be very costly and that
the BSA is ready to take the steps necessary to protect the interests of its
members. So if you haven’t taken measures to ensure that the software installed
on your network is properly licensed, the time to conduct an audit of those
licenses is now. If the BSA contacts you, it’s already too late.