Let's get tough on users of unlicensed software

We need muscle to combat software sharp practice

We need muscle to combat software sharp practice

According to software watchdogs, suppliers are losing hundreds of millions of pounds a year because of unlicensed software on users' systems.

And, as this week's clash between the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and WH Smith Online demonstrates, the regulators are looking to add bite to their bark, with high-profile court cases.

Using unlicensed software is illegal. Any firm that knowingly does so deserves to be punished. But the devil is, as usual, in the detail.

WH Smith held its hands up to the error and settled out of court. It did a software audit and changed its procedures. But that did not stop BSA making the whole thing into a cause celebre.

So what happens when the boot is on the other foot? When software companies ask users for £5m just to change the company name on the licence? Or when non-backward compatible upgrades force users to shell out again for software they have already bought.

In these cases - which Computer Weekly's campaign to Stamp Out Stiffing has unearthed with depressing regularity - it is difficult to get user firms to go public.

Meanwhile, as we have been warning for the past 18 months, a proposed new law in the US designed to punish the use of unlicensed software could give your supplier the right to reach inside your enterprise and disable your systems during any dispute.

If you want to redress the balance, you should think about putting resources into a pro-active campaign to end unfair practice by software suppliers.

Public pressure, combined with private lobbying, has produced results on stiffing. Major software firms have signed up to the Computer Weekly/Eurim code of practice on software licensing. But we still get a regular crop of horror stories about software licence rip-offs.

Maybe it's time users took a leaf out of the software firms' book. Few individual users have the muscle to take on the software industry. So why not a user-backed watchdog to root out and publicise software firms' sharp practices and help level the playing field between software suppliers and their customers?

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