Beware of software 'auditors'

Companies have been advised to exercise caution in deciding whether to complete the Business Software Alliance's (BSA) software...

Companies have been advised to exercise caution in deciding whether to complete the Business Software Alliance's (BSA) software audit return, writes Ross Bentley.

Specialist technology solicitor, Siân Croxon, a partner in the media and technology group at City law firm DLA, says that because there is no legal obligation to complete the audit return she is advising her clients not to do so.

"Our concern is that we don't know how the BSA is going to use this information," says Croxon. "It has asked companies to treat the form as seriously as their tax return which, of course, is compulsory. The BSA has no right to demand this information and there is no indication given about what steps will be taken if a company is found to have unlicensed software.

"Although it is important to be fully up to date with software licences, by filling in this form companies could be providing evidence that may be used against them," says Croxon.

The BSA is a private company set up by software suppliers, including Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe, Corel, Autodesk and Macromedia, to stamp out software piracy and recoup lost revenue for its members.

The BSA has sent out an annual software audit return to every organisation in the UK with 20 or more staff, asking them to conduct a software survey. Over recent months it has pursued a "name and shame" policy - publicising non-compliance even if companies have agreed to a financial settlement.

"This can cause much embarrassment to a reputable company," says Croxon. She advises software licence negotiators to seek confidentiality agreements as part of any settlement.

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