Online firms face software licence fight



David Bicknell

Fast-growing online services risk incurring the wrath of software suppliers if they exceed the terms of their licence...



David Bicknell

Fast-growing online services risk incurring the wrath of software suppliers if they exceed the terms of their licence agreements, a UK user has warned.

WH Smith Online made the warning after finding itself on the end of severe public criticism, despite settling with software suppliers.

The case, brought by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) following an e-mail tip-off earlier in the year, involved software from two of BSA's members, with licence fees of £4,000-£5,000. As a result, WH Smith Online found itself the subject of a damning announcement from the BSA.

In a statement, the alliance's campaign manager Mike Newton said, "It is disappointing that WH Smith Online has allowed its online service to fail its own internal processes. We are hoping that this settlement will be taken as an example of the damage that Internet companies face if they don't take software management seriously."

But WH Smith Online's managing director Rick Latham said he was disappointed his company's name had been used in this way. "We dealt with [the BSA] in good faith, though we did not stipulate any non-disclosure as part of the settlement. Our crime was not that we did not have any licences but we had erred on the number of users of the software. A number of e-commerce software companies, like WH Smith Online will have to decide if this is a price they want to pay for growing too quickly. "

The alliance said it made public WH Smith Online's fault to make it clear to users that one in three copies of software used in the UK is illegal. BSA estimates that the total amount of unlicenced software in use in the UK is worth about £290m.

Geoff Petherick, chief executive of the UK Computer Measurement Group, which has seen a number of "stiffing" cases brought to its notice over heavy-handed software licensing, said, "The comments from BSA appear to be a little over the top and fail to recognise the major abuse of a near monopoly position being carried on by many of the major software suppliers."

This was last published in April 2000

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