Guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the BSA

Simon Moores bemoans the heavy hadnedness of self-appointed software police

Simon Moores bemoans the heavy hadnedness of self-appointed software police

Don't you just love it when an organisation has no public relations sense whatsoever? This special talent is often seen at its best on TV programmes, such as BBC's Watchdog, where holiday companies try to blame shiftless tourists for catching ebola or losing their children down unguarded lift shafts.

The IT industry, of course, has some shining examples of its own. This month's favourite is the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

Vigorous in its just and righteous crusade against the hideous threat of software piracy, the BSA, as reported in Computer Weekly (14 December 2000), decided that, instead of sending a gentle Christmas greeting, it would post an audit return to unsuspecting small businesses throughout the country.

Reminiscent of the self-assessment tax returns, which those awfully nice people from the Inland Revenue like to send us each year, the BSA's covering letter was equally friendly. I thought it was similar in style to the kind of letter that arrives with the news that you are the lucky winner of a full tax audit.

The BSA's own rather intimidating letter warned companies of the perils of unlicensed software, forcefully requested a software audit and encouraged a complete and on-the-spot confession, stopping short of admitting involvement in the Kennedy assassination. Quite understandably, the missive sent a number of perfectly innocent businessmen into a state of near arrest.

Now, I have no problem with impressing on business that it should be honest about software. In fact, I was there the day that the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast) was launched all those years ago in a bar in Kensington. What I do have a problem with is what may be construed as arrogance, intimidation and careless stupidity on the part of the BSA. So listen up please, ladies and gentlemen.

You represent the interests of many large companies in the software industry. Software piracy will never go away but, when compared to the anarchy of a decade ago, most businesses have an honest attitude to the question of software licensing. Invariably, if business struggles, then it is with the greedy cycle of upgrades which can make efficient licence management and goodwill toward the suppliers a challenge.

For the user, make sure your software is licensed and legal and never offer the software companies any information about yourself or your business that you do not have to. And to the BSA, your task is to remind people of the law and not throw your weight around like some kind of private police force, which you are not.

Simon Moores is chairman of The Research Group

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