Computer Weekly readers have severely criticised software compliance bodies the Federation Against Software Theft and the Business Software Alliance for adopting scare tactics when trying to stamp out unlicensed use of software.
Corporate IT departments have slammed both supplier-backed groups for failing to co-ordinate their campaigns and making users duplicate work to show they are compliant with software licences.
Business IT chiefs have also accused Fast and the BSA of using scare tactics to sell their services.
Following the BSA's 14 February software audit deadline, lawyers have repeated their warning about dealing with these software licensing groups.
"Fast and the BSA have no powers whatsoever. The thing to do is to stand bold and ignore their communications," said IT barrister Stephen Mason. "Although it is implied that you have a legal duty to fill in the BSA's software audits you do not have to."
He said the thing to do is to respond by doing your own audit to make sure you are compliant and seek advice from your legal department.
Even Mark Floisand, chairman of BSA, acknowledged this point. "You do not have to comply with the BSA but you have to comply with the law."
However, he accepted there had been some "forceful" campaigns by both the BSA and Fast in the past. "I can appreciate the readers' sentiments," Floisand said.
A key problem is the rivalry and lack of co-operation between the two bodies. The assertion by Fast general manager Richard Willmott that the two "share exactly the same message but have different ways of getting there" does not reflect IT departments' experience of dealing with the BSA and Fast.
One IT manager, who asked not to be named, said, "A Fast representative advised us to throw any communication from the BSA in the bin."
Companies can be left in the situation where they are accredited by one organisation and not the other, which will invariably view them as unlawfully unlicensed until proven otherwise, he said.
Another IT director said that despite spending two years acquiring Fast Gold accreditation for software compliance and procedures, his company still has to complete the BSA's annual software audit forms. "I find it ridiculous that the BSA does not recognise Fast," he said.
"There is definitely room for further collaboration between Fast and the BSA as we do share the same objectives," Floisand said.
He stressed that the BSA wants to help companies not prosecute them, and denied there was a disparity in offering to help organisations yet paying employees to snitch on their employers.
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Legal aid on software licensing
Stephen Mason, IT barrister, offers the following advice:
Fast and the BSA have no official powers whatsoever
You can ignore any communications from Fast and the BSAand you have no legal requirement to fill in any software audits from the BSA
Seek legal advice and conduct your own software audit immediately
Warn employees that downloading software onto their systems is forbidden. Include it in your staff security policy.