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Software piracy is big business and bad for IT as a whole, so addition has to badge it. But aback the piracy badge abjure their bounds, companies ache needlessly. Here, Redmond explores the best agonizing tales of software audits and how companies should acknowledge if the piracy cops appear knocking.



“Audit” is about consistently a awful word. It conjures images of anesthetized IRS agents and detail-obsessed accountants cloudburst over years of receipts, invoices and bills, and sometimes alike addendum bound jotted bottomward on debris of paper. Audits are time-consuming, circuitous and can be appealing frightening.

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In the software industry, audits can be aloof as difficult for IT professionals as IRS inquiries are for taxpayers, if not worse. Software licensing is alone hardly added complicated than mapping the animal genome, so alike the best-run IT departments are acceptable to accept slipped up with some licensing paperwork about and collapsed into non-compliance. But the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the software industry’s vendor-backed licensing-enforcement organization, rarely shows benevolence to alike the best atoning of offenders and sometimes smacks about companies that aren’t accusable of non-compliance at all.



To be sure, the BSA does a lot of acceptable assignment in backyard out piracy, a above botheration that not alone hurts sales abstracts for vendors and partners, but additionally deprives the abridgement of jobs and tax revenues. The non-profit barter affiliation uses money from the fines it collects from companies to armamentarium anti-piracy apprenticeship programs and added anti-piracy efforts.

BSA is the better anti-piracy accumulation in the technology area and claims aloof about every above bell-ringer as a member, including Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and Symantec Corp. (The alone mega-vendor clearly missing is Oracle Corp.)

The ambition of this adventure is not to absolutely back-bite the BSA, but to accomplish IT professionals acquainted of the BSA’s (and vendors’) approach for administering audits, which abounding readers and experts alarm overbearing. (We additionally let the BSA accept its say.) We seek with this adventure to let companies apperceive how asperous software audits can be, aloof in case they’re acceptable lax with compliance. We additionally achievement to admonish IT professionals on ambidextrous with software audits, decidedly aback they’re absolutely innocent.

The belief told actuality are absolute tales from absolute Redmond readers, all announced anon to the columnist of this article. Given the acute attributes of this issue, we accept afflicted the names of the parties complex at their requests.

Not Aloof Junk MailSoftware audits are big deals. They can amount companies millions of dollars and derail careers. The BSA is up advanced about abeyant penalties: “One of the things that we accomplish bright appropriate from the alpha is that this is a austere matter,” says Jenny Blank, the BSA’s North American administration programs manager. “The penalties accustomed by law are up to $150,000 per appellation infringed.”

The rewards for auspiciously axis in offenders can be handsome, too. The BSA conducts all of its audits based on tip-offs from individuals, Blank says, and the alignment afresh aperitive the pot for tipsters by alms rewards of “up to” $1 actor for advertisement licensing violations.

It’s not consistently the BSA that requests — or seems to appeal — an audit, though. Vendors sometimes accelerate their own belletrist absolute of the BSA — and those belletrist can be a bit tricky, possibly alike absolutely misleading. Sometimes, a letter from a bell-ringer sounds like a bribery when, in fact, it’s aloof a adamantine advertise to upgrade.

“I accustomed [a letter] several years ago from an over-eager agent at Microsoft advising me that I ability be in abuse of authorization agreements,” Redmond clairvoyant Jim reports. “The letter was from the acknowledged department, as I recall, and seemed to be added of a bribery than what it after angry out to be — a business address to advancement Office articles we owned. Talk about ambiguous and heavy-handed …”

It’s usually the BSA that makes contact, though, abnormally with abate businesses, licensing authority Scott Braden says: “The abate you go, the added acceptable it’s activity to be the BSA,” says Braden, chief carnality admiral of broadcast desktop casework at NET(net) Inc. in Dallas, Texas. “The beyond the [customer], the added acceptable it is to be the supplier.”

For Redmond clairvoyant Marvin, the letter came from the BSA — but the alignment fudged Microsoft’s captivation with the audit, Marvin claims. “At the time, I was an IT administrator amenable for software licensing, desktop and server support, etc.,” Marvin reports. “I opened the circadian mail to acquisition a letter from the Business Software Alliance advertence that they capital me to alarm them to agenda a appointment for a software audit. They declared that they were alive as a accomplice with Microsoft, and were absorbed in allowance our alignment ensure that we were administration our licenses correctly.

“I visited the BSA Web armpit and arrested some acknowledged references to affirm that I was actual — that [the BSA is] not a government analytic organization, but is annihilation added than a clandestine company, which does absolutely appeal rights to analysis added companies beneath bribery of blackmail.

“I took the letter to [my company’s] attorney. I brash him that we were and had been purchasing our software beneath Microsoft’s Volume Licensing Agreement, and that we had aloof completed an analysis with the Microsoft licensing team’s assistance. I provided Microsoft’s address of the allegation and included a archetype of the afresh active acquirement agreement, which bought a assertive cardinal of licenses, to actual any deficiencies listed in the report. I additionally provided a announcement for almanac from Microsoft, which declared that the BSA was not, in fact, acting for them, or on their behalf. I acerb recommended that we ‘deny BSA an befalling to help,’ and that we advance our appropriate to amnesty from chase absent any acknowledged justification. [Our attorney] so brash them and told them to appear aback aback they had a warrant. We never heard addition word.”

Reader Jon, a Microsoft partner, had a agnate acquaintance aback ambidextrous with three audience who accustomed analysis requests from the BSA. The botheration began aback Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) — now Windows Activation Technologies (WAT), the Microsoft compliance-reporting arrangement — failed, and Microsoft absent acquiescence advice for Jon’s clients.

“WGA absolutely crapped out and died amid SP1 and SP2 of [Windows] XP,” Jon says. “The BSA acclimated the botheration to force audits.” Jon wasn’t falling for it, though. He brash the BSA to appear aback with a subpoena. The BSA started the action but never got anywhere, Jon says, mainly because Microsoft bankrupt aback he affected the vendor’s hand.

He accepted the BSA go to Microsoft and ask the bell-ringer to accessible its own sales records, to prove Jon’s audience had appropriately accountant their software. At that point, Microsoft balked: “When the BSA association had to go aback to Microsoft to accessible up sales books, Microsoft told them that’s not activity to happen,” Jon says. He was able to bright his clients’ names — and his own as well.

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