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MPs call for independent software licensing body

Karl Cushing

MPs and IT users angered by the strong-arm tactics of the Business Software Alliance and the Federation Against Software Theft have called for an independent body to handle software licensing and compliance issues.

Liberal Democrat MP and IT spokesman Richard Allan called for a single, independent body to referee disputes between suppliers and users. He said users should be able to go to the body with compliance issues without the fear of being named and shamed.

"That requires a level of independence," said Allan. "It is difficult when you have industry bodies that are effectively supplier alliances because they will follow the suppliers' agendas."

David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum, Tif, said, "There is a real need for a body that can be seen to be representative of both the corporate users and the supplier community."

Roberts said users were "very conscious" of compliance as an issue but the absence of an effective representative body meant they ended up trying to do everything themselves.

Last week, the BSA caused outrage in the industry when it claimed that 26% of business software used in the UK is illegal.

David Rippon, chairman of the British Computer Society's Elite IT directors group called for the BSA to reveal the research methods its software piracy figures are based on.

Roberts accused the BSA of "grossly unprofessional" and "heavy-handed" behaviour. "All it is doing is increasing the divide between users and the suppliers. It just doesn't help the relationship," he said.

The BSA, whose members are mainly large software suppliers such as Adobe, Apple and Microsoft, has a controversial "name and shame" approach for companies it finds using unlicensed software and offers cash rewards for employees who snitch on their employers.

However, BSA chairman Mark Floisand defended his organisation's figures and its approach. "When an organisation comes to the BSA, we have a 'no prosecution' rule and we will provide compliance help. Come forward, put your hands up and you won't be prosecuted," he said.

Earlier in the year, IT user groups criticised rival organisation the Federation Against Software Theft for using scare tactics to get company board members to attend its events.

Computer Weekly comment:  It is time for a new approach       

The Business Software Alliance and the Federation Against Software Theft have become an anachronism for most IT users, who are tired of being called software pirates while being sold poor-quality, difficult-to-manage software by licensing body members.  

No one will deny that software licensing and compliance are serious issues but it is hard to see how these two bodies will ever improve matters with the current breakdown of trust on both sides. 

Earlier this year both Fast and the BSA were criticised for sending users correspondence claiming they might be non-compliant and warning company directors that they faced up to 10 years in prison and unlimited fines if their firms were found to be using illegal software.  

The BSA also "names and shames" companies it finds using unlicensed software and offers cash rewards for employees who snitch on their employers.  

In fact, neither body has any legal powers and organisations such as Tif advise users to ignore any correspondence from them. 

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the two bodies do not recognise one another, so working towards accreditation by one will still leave you open to accusations from the other.  

Ultimately, if the BSA and Fast really want to improve the situation they should step aside and support the creation of a single, independent body that represents users as well as suppliers in a constructive manner. Fear, uncertainty and doubt tinged with harsh recrimination has been proved not to work - it is time for a new approach.


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