Engineering design company Project Options has been fined £16,000 by the Business Software Alliance for running unlicenced AutoDesk software, following an online tip-off.
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On top of paying the £16,000 settlement, the mechanical and electrical building design services company also had to buy new software licences, costing approximately £17,500.
Paul Daly, director at Project Options, said: "Before the BSA investigation we never prioritised software licensing in the business.
"In addition to discovering that we were using unlicensed software, we also discovered some contractors had downloaded and used unlicensed software."
Since agreeing a settlement with BSA, project Options has bought the correct licences for all the relevant software and has moved to a subscription based model in the Autodesk cloud.
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"The good news is that moving to the cloud has benefited the business in other ways as we can access our software from any device, at any time," said Daly.
"I would urge all small business owners to review their software licensing on a regular basis, or they could face unplanned costs like we have."
Alyna Cope, chair of the BSA UK Committee, said: "As Project Options has found out, unplanned costs like these can be hugely detrimental to a small business."
As Computer Weekly has previously reported, while software companies may have a legitimate reason to ask for a licence audit, some use the threat of an audit to get users to upgrade. There is certainly a trend to move users to a pay-per-use model, which may benefit some organisations, but software as a service may not always be cost effective.
Cope urges organisations wishing to remain on on-premise rather than cloud software to establish a software asset-management programme, which can be used to ensure the right number of licences are bought.