Industry experts hit out at BSA "name and shame" policy

The Business Software Alliance has "named and shamed" five more UK companies that settled out of court after being accused of...

The Business Software Alliance has "named and shamed" five more UK companies that settled out of court after being accused of using unlicensed software.

The BSA named a leisure centre, a county council and candle maker among the companies that paid fines ranging from £9,500 up to £65,000, plus the cost of deficient licences.

However, four of the companies contacted by CW360 complained of shoddy treatment by the BSA, prompting legal experts and user groups to urge extreme caution in dealing with the organisation.

The companies told CW360 they had co-operated with what they thought was a request from a quasi-legal industry group for a software audit. After conducting audits and rectifying any deficits, the companies were still fined - often for greater sums than the value of the unlicensed software- then "named and shamed".

Hussman Europe was accused of using unlicensed software but had not yet settled with the BSA. The company's managing director, Jim McQuillam, said, "We looked at it as a health and safety issue and our IT department proceeded to work with the BSA.

"However, we are not happy with the way we have been treated, especially as we have made restitution. The situation is with our legal department and it is likely that we will settle."

McQuillam would not comment further, but company sources told CW360 that the BSA had approached Hussman, claiming there were deficiencies with its Autodesk licences. A full audit uncovered no problems with Autodesk, but some minor anomalies with Windows licences, which Hussman promptly settled. Despite this, Hussman is being treated as an offending company.

Mike Newton, campaign relations manager for the BSA, defended its policy: "Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law. We believe that half of the £350m lost to unlicensed software is done unwittingly, but we have to stop this problem."

Newton dismissed suggestions that the BSA, which is funded by software companies such as Microsoft and Symantec, was involved in underhand methods.

Simon Moores, chairman of the Microsoft users forum said: "We support the notion of companies performing software audits and making sure licences are up to date, but I doubt if any company in the UK can guarantee that they are 100% compliant in every respect."

He added:"The BSA is not a government body and its actions are not entirely for the benefit of the business community at a time when software license fees are being artificially increased.

"I would recommend that if you receive a letter from the BSA, tear up the letter and flush it down the toilet but make sure that your software is licensed," Moores concluded.

Kitt Burden, IT partner at law firm Barlow Lyde Gilbert is currently advising caution to clients who have been approached by the BSA.

"If you admit to having unlicensed software, the licensor can sue for damages and legal fees. If you fail to play ball, a software licensor can terminate all the current licences, forcing you to remove software, which may bring a business to its knees. The licensor can then offer the company the chance to buy all the software back, but at the full price."

He warned any company in discussion with BSA to seek a non-disclosure agreement before it settles, as the damage to reputation can be more detrimental than the fines.

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