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Crying Foul At the BSA's "Nauseating" Anti-Piracy Tactics

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the be-a-shame-if-anything-was-t'-happen dept.

Piracy 235

Barence writes "The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has been accused of heavy-handed tactics that could drive small companies to incriminate themselves. The Microsoft-backed piracy watchdog generates a quarter of its cases by offering employees cash rewards for informing on their own employer. 'It is basically harvesting allegations from disgruntled employees and farming them out to expensive law firms,' one small business owner told PC Pro, who said he was 'nauseated' by the tactics. The BSA then sends out a letter demanding the business owner fill out a software audit, or potentially face court action — even though the BSA has no power to demand such an audit and hasn't pursued a court case in five years. 'It's designed to scare the recipient into thinking that they're obliged to provide certain information when, in fact, it's difficult to see that they are,' said a leading IT lawyer."

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Use Linux (5, Insightful)

bgman (1059448) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370361)

One of many, many reasons my small business uses linux.

Re:Use Linux (5, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370473)

And open-source software in general. Yeah, this kind of scaring will just scare organizations right into the lap of OSS. Keep it, suits! You are doing an outstanding job!

correction: "Keep it up" (2)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370499)

correction: "Keep it up". Sorry about that. I read it 3 times, but my mind saw what it expected instead of what was already there.

Re:correction: "Keep it up" (3, Funny)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371079)

The original can stand, as well. The suits can keep their crappy proprietary systems. They can keep their heavy-handed tactics. And they can keep digging their hole, all the way to China.

Re:Use Linux (4, Interesting)

Krishnoid (984597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370699)

This case [cnet.com] happened a while ago; any comparable non-tech companies that have a similar story to tell?

Re:Use Linux (-1, Flamebait)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370849)

I use Windows (comes with the PC for free), but everything on windows is OpenSource.

That Cnet article blows. Is that the same guitar guy who has been raided twice, because he's using imported wood (all of which is legal, but they still shut him down)? If it's not RIAA or the BSA, then it's your own government. The owner believes he's being harassed because he gave multi-million dollar donations to the Republicans, but not one penny to Obama in 2008.

Re:Use Linux (4, Informative)

BuckaBooBob (635108) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371015)

Windows is not free.. Its built into the price... Saying Windows comes free with your pc for free is like saying the CPU and memory are also come free with your PC..

Re:Use Linux (4, Informative)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371447)

Most times a PC with windows is cheaper than a PC without, because of the adware subsidizing the PC. I'm not going to buy a PC w/o windows if it actually cost 50-100 dollars more.

Re:Use Linux (4, Informative)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371033)

Is that the same guitar guy who has been raided twice, because he's using imported wood (all of which is legal, but they still shut him down)? If it's not RIAA or the BSA, then it's your own government. The owner believes he's being harassed because he gave multi-million dollar donations to the Republicans, but not one penny to Obama in 2008.

The best I can tell, you are talking about the Gibson raid. It was Fox News that baselessly speculated CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was being targeted for his political leanings. From FEC records, Juszkiewicz contributed $52K to Republicans and $39K to Democrats over 10 years. That's quite a different story from the one you are telling.

Re:Use Linux (4, Informative)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371057)

That was Gibson guitars and the feds came in with guns and shut them down twice [nytimes.com] over some bogus claims.

Re:Use Linux (4, Insightful)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371211)

Yeah, this kind of scaring will just scare organizations right into the lap of OSS. Keep it, suits! You are doing an outstanding job!

The BSA has been doing this practice since 1988. It doesn't appear to have scared many organizations to OSS.

I am sure that a few have made the switch to OSS, but I imagine that the number would be insignificant compared to the organizations who change their practices to pay for all the software they use. It is still going to be worth it for the BSA and its member companies.

Besides, it is not much of a threat to say that if you get audited then you will stop pirating commercial software and start using open source.

Re:Use Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371345)

Besides, it is not much of a threat to say that if you get audited then you will stop pirating commercial software and start using open source.

Well, it depends. If most of your software is properly paid for and licensed but a few things slipped through the cracks - possibly even thinking everything's okay but misunderstanding some license terms - I can see it being meaningful.

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

GoblinKing (6434) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370725)

I have been running a small business since 2001 and have only ever used open source software for just this reason. No restrictive licenses equals no legal fees for software piracy.

I think, however, that Microsft and the BSA should be MORE aggressive in their pursuit of these heinous villains of industry. Maybe it will drive more businesses towards using F/OSS tools and ditch their shackles. Something very Marxian about it ....

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370747)

Using linux doesn't protect your business from a disgruntled employee claiming you have stolen software, and the MS-BSA sending you a scary software audit letter "or else we will drag you to a court of law".

BTW these megacorps use government regulations in the same fashion -- to harass small business citizens.

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370997)

It does, however, prevent you from funding them. I know it is only a drop in the bucket, but it is my drop damn it!

Also wouldn't change the outcome any (2)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371159)

Since they haven't pursued a court case in 5 years it would seem they simply drop shit if people don't agree to pay them.

Now I'm not saying don't use OSS, but it won't change the outcome of something like this at all between using licensed commercial software.

For that matter if you actually agreed to their bullshit audit (you shouldn't but saying you did) it would probably make life more difficult. If you have all your commercial software boxes n' licenses, they are pretty well stymied. I know a number of small businesses who do just that, not because they are worried about BSA audits but just because they want to keep all their computer stuff organized. They have a big box with all the relevant stuff that BSA would be able to quickly look through. With OSS of course there'd be none of that, and also their scanning tools probably don't support Linux so they'd make a nuisance of themselves trying to find pirated software that didn't exist.

Re:Also wouldn't change the outcome any (3, Informative)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371363)

"If you have all your commercial software boxes n' licenses"

They will do you absolutely no good in a BSA audit. If you don't have original invoices that show where you paid for the software any number of pretty stickers or boxes will not satisfy the audit. Believe me, i know. Been there. Done that.

Re:Use Linux (2)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371343)

It makes finding all your licenses and making sure everything's in order a lot easier though.

Because that's actually what costs you. Not the licenses. I know a lot of businesses that have (to their best knowledge) everything in order but they buy computers "bulk", computer, system, everything rolled into one bill. They don't tend to waste a lot of time making a big inventory of their licenses.

So when this scare letter comes, they spend a fair amount of time collecting bills and filling out forms... it's way easier when you can simply write "none" and optionally "F.U.".

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370755)

Doesn't really help, what with the whole false accusations from disgruntled employees angle. Replying "no thanks, I use Linux" to them isn't going to do you much good. Replying at all isn't going to do you much good. It shows them that you're listening.

A better approach is to simply ignore the BSA on principle. Threatening letters are cheap, subpoenas are expensive, and they do their business in bulk (meaning they can't actually sic their lawyers on most of their targets).

Also, try not to have disgruntled employees. A big company can't avoid a few bad apples, but smaller businesses can vet new hires better and treat existing employees less like disposable resources. If nothing else, the BSA isn't the only recourse for a pissed off ex employee to screw his former boss. I once worked at a restaurant that got hit with a surprise health inspection shortly after a round of layoffs - the people running the place treated employees and health code rules about equally well and almost got shut down as a result (I would have said good riddance if they had, but it would have meant looking for a new job myself).

Re:Use Linux (5, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370811)

No response at all is dangerous. A better response is "We are not in violation of any licenses. Please direct all further correspondence to our attorney. Find his contact information attached."

I have a feeling in most cases it will end there.

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371023)

No response to a letter is not dangerous. No response to a certified letter or subpoena is dangerous...

Re:Use Linux (2)

RsG (809189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371321)

Yeah, that's what I was getting at, should have phrased it more clearly. So, refining my original statement:

If you get a threatening letter from the BSA demanding an audit, disregard it.

If you get a subpoena, or anything else official, forward it to your lawyer.

The letter is bait. Don't rise to it, and most likely they won't do anything about it. Actual court documents are too serious to ignore.

Re:Use Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371127)

They can not prove that you received a letter.

Re:Use Linux (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371271)

Having gone through a nasty lawsuit (utterly unrelated to software licenses), the one thing that I learned, if nothing else, is that you do not leave any such letter unreplied. You should respond, because if it ever does end up in a court of law, you will want to show you did your due diligence. Since licensing agreements with guys like Microsoft and Adobe do have language around giving them or their agents the power to check that you are complying with the agreement, simply tossing such a letter in the trash, even if you don't have a spot of their software on the premises, is inviting trouble. If you're a business, you should have a lawyer anyways, and when it comes to legal, or even legal-sounding threats, that's his department.

I imagine BSA will not pursue very many people if they find they're likely going to have to deal with a lawyer right from the start.

Re:Use Linux (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371387)

If I don't have a spot of their software on the premises, I don't give half a shit about how they word their agreements. You want into my company? Why? Oh, you accuse me of copyright infringement? Wait right here while my lawyer finishes that "false accusation" stuff he's writing about. And no, of course you can not come in while you're waiting.

Re:Use Linux (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371431)

I think you're treating the BSA as if they were a law firm. They follow a different approach than actual lawyers do.

They don't actually sue, see the line about "hasn't pursued a court case in 5 years". Lawsuits cost money. They threaten to sue if you've got pirated software, then sell you on an audit to prove your innocence. If they find pirated software, they offer to legitimize it by selling you a licence, rather than go to court. It's a revenue generating approach where unleashing the lawyers is a last resort.

They're the equivalent to an angry McDonald's customer demanding to see the manager (for whatever reason), threatening to sue/call head office/stir up a ruckus, and walking out with a refund or free food. If they don't get their free mcnuggets, they give up and try the same approach in the next store down the road.

Re:Use Linux (2)

blind monkey 3 (773904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371371)

You are in business to make a living, give them a figure (say $5000 per workstation, $20000 per server plus expenses for the audit ) if they want an audit- since they are interfering with your business and you have done nothing wrong, you should be adequately compensated - contract drawn up of course.

Send an invoice with the letter for the time taken to reply too.

Re:Use Linux (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371081)

Also, try not to actually have pirated software. Even companies that claim in policy not to use pirated software sometimes do. Even those that are really serious about only using licensed software (which includes OSS, by the way) sometimes have bad apples who do it anyway. If you don't want to end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit, don't break the law.

This is not in favor or support of the BSA at all, you just left out the point that actually not breaking the rules they're claiming you're breaking is a good idea.

Re:Use Linux (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371309)

Also, try not to actually have pirated software. Even companies that claim in policy not to use pirated software sometimes do.

As you say, it can be quite difficult to ensure that a you have no pirated software. It may be easier in the long run for a company just to be nicer to their employees so that don't rat them out to the BSA in the first place!

Let the fools have their tar-tar sauce!

Re:Use Linux (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371405)

It's easy to avoid bad apples using "bad" software in your company, the tool for that is called user management.

Aside of that, companies often don't even know they're infringing. Copyright is such a vast and confusing legal matter (and don't start me on the licensing systems MS uses...) that any halfway decently sized company would have to hire a dedicated lawyer just for licensing. Now, how is that in any way sensible? Most simply accept the risk of an audit, it's cheaper.

Re:Use Linux (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371467)

Also, try not to actually have pirated software. Even companies that claim in policy not to use pirated software sometimes do. Even those that are really serious about only using licensed software (which includes OSS, by the way) sometimes have bad apples who do it anyway. If you don't want to end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit, don't break the law.

This is not in favor or support of the BSA at all, you just left out the point that actually not breaking the rules they're claiming you're breaking is a good idea.

Considering that if you don't have all your original receipts and licenses, the BSA considers you to have illegal copies of the software, it's not enough just to try not to have pirated software. You have to be able to prove that all the software you've actually got is legitimate. Of course, this is only if you let the BSA in the door in the first place. If you respond with "I have entered no agreements with your partner companies. I refuse your request" there's not much they can do, short of reporting a suspected copyright violation to the police (and for that they'll need the reporter's signed testimony).

Re:Use Linux (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371499)

This is not in favor or support of the BSA at all, you just left out the point that actually not breaking the rules they're claiming you're breaking is a good idea.

Yeah, I left that out to be polite, since the OP was talking about running a FOSS only business. Wouldn't do to conflate the businesses that don't pay the BSA because they don't use BSA software with the businesses that don't pay the BSA because bittorrent is cheaper. Apples hate being called oranges.

I don't doubt that some businesses do get threatened by the BSA thanks to anon complaints from ex employees, and actually do have pirated software. Even in the case of those companies, I'd tell them to get the IT guy(s) to do an internal audit and clean up their act, not let the BSA run the audit for them.

Re:Use Linux (1)

Mike_EE_U_of_I (1493783) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370821)

BSA is why my company and family dropped Microsoft Office and went to Openoffice.

Re:Use Linux (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371103)

In other words, you were using stolen/pirated MS Office and realized you culpability at which point you decided to switch to OpenOffice. Seems like the BSA is working just fine.

Re:Use Linux (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371419)

It could also something else: A BSA letter that caused so much overhead finding all the licenses that the boss eventually threw up his arms and decided it's simply less hassle to switch to FOSS.

so easy (2)

v1 (525388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370389)

to come up with a nice comparison involving mob protection rackets. truly is a repulsive business practice, right up there with patent trolls and ambulance chasers.

Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (5, Insightful)

sed quid in infernos (1167989) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370433)

The Microsoft-backed piracy watchdog generates a quarter of its cases by offering employees cash rewards for informing on their own employer.

I don't like the BSA, and I'm pretty neutral about Microsoft, but what is the point of saying the BSA is "Microsoft-backed"? They're also Adobe-, Apple-, and Dell- backed, among many others.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370665)

it might well be just the usual /. M$ bashing. but maybe the OP had thoughts on how MS have a monopoly, they also have a clause in their EULA and business licences that state you are obliged to allow MS or their reps (read that as the BSA) to audit you. So there *IS* a legal/contractual requirement.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370765)

Weirdly, if you're using the software unlicensed that means you haven't agreed to the EULA and don't need to let them audit you. There's a certain irony there.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370957)

In the past I have used pirate software... 98% of the time I still had to click the EULA "I agree" (although I am not aware of this click ever actually being held up as agreement in court)

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370983)

MS doesn't have a monopoly.

People are free to buy Macs, run Linux, buy Chromebooks, buy Android laptops, or tablets running iOS or Android.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371411)

Yes, they do. If you buy a PC (defined as the descendant of the IBM PC and 100% Compatible), you have no choice in what operating system it comes with, you pay for a Windows license whether you like it or not. It is possible, after a fashion, to reject it and get it refunded later, but the option simply doesn't exist to not pay for it in the first place.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (0)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370671)

Microsoft is the big player in BSA.

Because Slashdot hates MS (2)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370769)

This site has had a lot of MS hating editors for a long time.

Re:Because Slashdot hates MS (3, Insightful)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371125)

MS is hated for good reason: much patent trolling with Android being among the most recent victims, OOXML and file format lock in, Windows Genuine Advantage and Vista's DRM, and the Microsoft Tax to name just a few. And of course the BSA. Their entire attitude is about maintaining a monopoly and controlling and milking their users, not serving them. I really think the only thing keeping MS's empire alive these days is DirectX and PC gaming, and inertia and continuing prejudice against products that are not backed by traditional large corporations. MS has merely displaced IBM among conservative computer users.

Or are you going to try to claim there isn't good reason to hate MS?

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (4, Interesting)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370789)

I don't like the BSA, and I'm pretty neutral about Microsoft, but what is the point of saying the BSA is "Microsoft-backed"? They're also Adobe-, Apple-, and Dell- backed, among many others.

The real reason is everybody hates Microsoft. It grabs eyeballs and gets a good debate going.

What people will claim the 'real reason' is is that Microsoft is a high profile target and if you focus on them it'll cause them to change and everybody else will magically fall into line. The same thing happened with Apple and Foxconn. So far it has proven to be an effective way to cause short-term change with one company, but you'll notice that there hasn't been any real hubub on Slashdot about the Chinese workers there. That died down, so the other companies can merrily go about their routine. Looks like there's a downside to focusing all that rage on one target.

So, yes, maybe a little more attention should be directed at everybody backing the BSA.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (5, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370797)

The answer is simple for many of them:

* Apple doesn't really care (each copy of OSX/iOS runs on Apple-sold hardware, and Apple is mostly consumer-oriented these days anyway, so...)
* What does Dell have software-wise that would get the BSA all hot and bothered? PERC raid card drivers? ...now Adobe, Oracle, and those boys? Oh yeah, they'd get hot and bothered about business copying, but how ubiquitous are these apps in the business world? Photoshop is mostly restricted to marketing and graphic arts departments. Oracle is mostly big enterprise-level stuff, where folks use RFP/RFQs to purchase the things. Nearly every other member of the BSA is similarly a niche player.

On the other hand, Microsoft has their fingers in (nearly) the entire business world, and most cases (IIRC) are instigated over Microsoft software. So it stands to reason that the biggest beneficiary (and most likely the biggest backer) is, well, Microsoft.

Re:Why call out "Microsoft-backed" and not others? (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371215)

Yet ironically at the same time people also gave MS a pass on SOPA since they didn't openly support it even those both the BSA and ESA did which MS are in. So in my mind I'm not that fussed because clearly a lot of people don't realise MS in those groups.

Dear BSA (5, Funny)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370471)

Everything runs on Linux over here, you are not even allowed in the door, and if you try to enter you will be escorted out by a HUGE man that hates authority figures, (i hired him because he is the type that hates authority figures)

Re:Dear BSA (5, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370545)

i hired him because he is the type that hates authority figures

That would make you his boss. Are you sure you thought that through properly?

Re:Dear BSA (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370741)

"That would make you his boss. Are you sure you thought that through properly?"

He may be a very "beta" boss.

Re:Dear BSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370767)

Maybe he acts like a human towards his employee and not like an "Authority figure". If there's anything I've learned growing up is that most "Authority figures" are petty pretenders that leverage their position or status over other people for power and ego, not because they've got actual "Authority" (See cops, bad bosses, middle managers, religious leaders, bullies)

Re:Dear BSA (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371193)

It's a joke. "Authority figure" !=arsehole, even the most wonderful parent,boss,kindergarten teacher,dead saint on a stick, is still an "authority figure". And if you personally think you do not have an evil dictator lurking inside your phyche just waiting for the right circumstances to emerge, then the stanford prison experiments have taught us nothing.

Re:Dear BSA (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370613)

Arent you an authority figure to him, if you're his employer?

Re:Dear BSA (2)

LostOne (51301) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370749)

Well, you know, he didn't say he hired the HUGE man to like him, did he? I dunno about you, but if I am gaining something I value highly enough, I can put up with a lot of people I hate.

Re:Dear BSA (1)

isorox (205688) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370701)

Everything runs on Linux over here, you are not even allowed in the door, and if you try to enter you will be escorted out by a HUGE man that hates authority figures, (i hired him because he is the type that hates authority figures)

How does he feel about his boss?

Re:Dear BSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370793)

Dear BSA,

Everything here run's Linux and you are not allowed on the property.

Also please take note of the sign: Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.

Re:Dear BSA (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371061)

Dear BSA,

Everything here run's Linux and you are not allowed on the property.

Also please take note of the sign: Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.

Even shorter...

Dear BSA,

Everything here run's Linux and you are not allowed on the property.

Proud supporter of the castle doctrine.

They should be investigated for racketeering (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370495)

It pretty much fits the definition...

I had a one man consulting company once. In order to appear larger, I often filled out web forms and indicated I had 50 to 100 employees. The BSA sent my company letter with their racketeering scam. I laughed because at the time I was a purely Linux and Mac environment. I wish I had kept that letter.

Re:They should be investigated for racketeering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370759)

Racketeering: When you're not paying the government enough taxes.

Business: When the government thinks you are paying enough. Note: Enough can be influenced by careful application of less payments to appropriate sectors. See also Judo.

Re:They should be investigated for racketeering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370833)

It pretty much fits the definition...

I had a one man consulting company once. In order to appear larger, I often filled out web forms and indicated I had 50 to 100 employees. The BSA sent my company letter with their racketeering scam. I laughed because at the time I was a purely Linux and Mac environment. I wish I had kept that letter.

Funny. And then there are those pesky fraud investigations :)

Re:They should be investigated for racketeering (4, Insightful)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370857)

How is this -not- racketeering? If the mob were behind this, instead of a "legitimate" business, wouldn't the FBI investigate it?

So BSA acts like RIAA (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370511)

Sending-out extortionate letters that scare the receiver, for fear they might be drug to court. The only difference is that BSA letters don't demand $5000 bribe.

What scum.

Why is anyone surprised? (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370543)

The BSA then sends out a letter demanding the business owner fill out a software audit, or potentially face court action — even though the BSA has no power to demand such an audit and hasn't pursued a court case in five years. 'It's designed to scare the recipient into thinking that they're obliged to provide certain information when, in fact, it's difficult to see that they are,' said a leading IT lawyer."

We've seen this tactic over and over. Any time someone is trying to make a revenue stream off of anything that can be digitally copied. MPAA, RIAA, BSA. Illegally gather information, pretend you're the police, then extort with the threat of a lawsuit.

It's the system that's broken. That's the bigger problem. The parasites that get fat off the system are a symptom. Fix the system.

Re:Why is anyone surprised? (1)

Rougement (975188) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370775)

"It's the system that's broken. That's the bigger problem. The parasites that get fat off the system are a symptom. Fix the system." Those parasites also helped create the system and wield enough power to make changing it very hard.

Re:Why is anyone surprised? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370947)

yes, and the audit is, you guessed it, at the company's expense!

Combine that with the fact that Microsoft' licensing terms is so obscure that even Microsoft salesman don't get it right, and you've got a win-win situation (for Microsoft, of course)

Re:Why is anyone surprised? (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371043)

I've told the story here before but about three or four years ago the company I was working for went through a SAM review. So far as we could tell, it was because the company had bought out a previous organization, including software licenses, and then we had decided not to renew the very expensive Software Assurance agreement.

I get this very pleasant email from a Microsoft business partner telling me that they were going to conduct the audit, with a spreadsheet for me to fill out. I did my thing, even working with the reseller who had sold the previous company most of the licenses, got it all tickety-boo, and then the fun began. The guy kept coming back with more requests for clarification, with more issues, and finally, as this dragged on to three weeks, I finally lost my cool and sent the guy an angry email, CCed to the reseller, telling him that as far as I was concerned we were in full compliance, we had shown we had licenses for everything, and that this process was going to wrap up now.

A few days later, the guy sent me an email saying that 5 CALs on one of our Server 2003 installs wasn't a proper match, and to bring us into compliance I would have to convert them from user CALs to device CALs. I sent an email back saying "Sure thing" and that was that. Never did convert them to device CALs either, fucking assholes. So far as I could tell, the whole process was designed to try to trip me up so that I would have to buy more licenses of something... anything. I'm sure the business partner would get a cut from that. My boss felt like sending the company a bill for the time wasted.

Re:Why is anyone surprised? (2)

jimicus (737525) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371359)

I've been responsible for software licensing myself and I've reached the inescapable conclusion that you are not expected to get it right. Whether by accident or design, the system is set up to make you fail.

Why? Simple. The licensing agreements are so labyrinthine that you practically need a team of lawyers in charge of licensing software.

You've got some licenses that allow for employee personal use at home, some that allow for no more than a single spare copy for backup purposes (Oh that's good. So I can't put a copy on my fileserver that gets automatically gets backed up every day on a 30-day rotation with monthly backups kept as archives?), some that allow you to use each license twice on condition you won't have both copies in use simultaneously, some products that can trivially be copied and installed by people who don't have admin rights (and you know there are people who will do this if it's at all possible) though the license forbids it, some that are aimed at a specific type of business yet have a licensing model that doesn't make any sense for such a business, you've got licenses that must be renewed, you've got licenses that don't have to be renewed, you've got licenses that the salesman insist don't have to be renewed but are worded in such a fashion that it doesn't sound like it, you've got software that can only be used for specific purposes unless you buy a different type of license.

You've got invoices for software you bought seven years ago, yet legally you're not obliged to keep invoices for more than six years. The BSA doesn't accept anything but a sales invoice; your accounts department disposes of invoices that are over six years old.

You've got invoices for software that are so badly written that they're almost entirely incomprehensible, and you've no idea what they represent.

Then you've got salesmen with laptops that show up back at head office once in a blue moon, and somehow or other have done all sorts of odd things despite the fact that the laptop is locked down so tight it may as well be a dumb terminal.

You can't get it right. The best you can hope for is to get it as close as possible to being right and using words like "to the best of my knowledge" to cover the rest.

Re:Why is anyone surprised? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371341)

We have found the system, and it is us.. We are the system. Don't be going on about some ethereal entity that's out of our control when it isn't.

Reply letter (5, Insightful)

nbauman (624611) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370683)

They were sending out this letter years ago. If I got a letter like that, I would send them the following reply:

Dear Mr./Ms. xxxxxxxx:

I am in receipt of your letter dated yyyymmdd. I have reviewed our software and it is all in compliance with the licensing. I would like to invite you to our office but we are too busy to accommodate visitors. Thank you for your concern.

Sincerely,

nbauman

I'm not sure how they would respond. I expect they would either forget about it, send a threatening but bluffing letter, or send a real threatening letter. I wouldn't let them into my premises unless I thought they could back it up with a court order.

The defense would be, "The only person who installed illegal software was the ratxxx disgruntled employee who rattedxxxxxx informed on us to you."

Of course if I really did have a lot of expensive illegal software, I'd check with my lawyer to figure out the most prudent response.

I wonder how they could legally force you to let them investigate.

They might bring a civil suit and force disclosure. Lawyers are extremely reluctant to commit perjury for their clients in discovery.

Re:Reply letter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370923)

Under the laws of agency I don't think it would matter who installed the software if it was something they were expected to do within their job duties. If the argument could be made they did it for the company, then the company is also responsible (note the 'also') and the copyright holder can go against either target for the full value of the 'crime'. IANAL, YMMV, YADAYADA.

Re:Reply letter (3, Informative)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371149)

I'm not sure how they would respond. I expect they would either forget about it, send a threatening but bluffing letter, or send a real threatening letter. I wouldn't let them into my premises unless I thought they could back it up with a court order.

Why not go all the way and just require a court order?

I wonder how they could legally force you to let them investigate.

I don't know that they can force you to let them investigate, but some software licenses include a clause requiring you to cooperate with software audits. If you're licensed for such software, you're now in breach and they can probably revoke the license. All they need is evidence you're still using the software after that and that's grounds for a lawsuit, which includes discovery.

KACHING (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39370735)

HA Awesome - I'm so reporting every company I've ever worked for.. KACHING!... (all open source companies!)

Re:KACHING (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370839)

That is until you're sued into the poor house for breaking the NDA you signed.

Re:KACHING (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371509)

NDAs that force you to hush up about illegal activities are void (at least in my country, dunno about the US, their laws are sometimes a bit odd...).

Just more anti-MS (0)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370783)

No, I'm NOT flame baiting mods, so leave it alone. Now anyways, how is this any different than, say, offering a reward towards the solving of any other crime... theft, murder, whatever. So Microsoft pays people to report on what, technically (i.e. according to the law) is illegal, and you have a problem with that... do you have a problem with people paying to help solve crimes in general? Or is it just because MS or copyright is involved (these are dirty words here on Slashdot...)

I myself participated in one of these software audits on the local high school and it wasn't some horrific nightmare, none of us viewed it as a violation of our inalienable rights, or whatever nauseatin form of torture TFA is making the process out to be. We found 50 or so unlicensed softwares and got that fixed, we self-reported and didn't get penalized. and MS has a right to be compensated for its products, especially since we were receiving support from them for various services.

Ok, an honest answer (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370931)

Since you say you're not trolling I'll take you at your word and give you my best answer.

It's not the "what", it's the "how".

The "what" is someone getting fairly paid for their work. Which they have every right to do. Microsoft, the artists represented by the RIAA, everyone. You produce something of value and ask a price for it, you deserve to be paid. Or not be paid if the price is too high. Let the market decide. But either way you deserve to be in that marketplace and not sidestepped illegally.

The "how" is the problem.

What these organizations are doing is criminal. Pretending to be the police is illegal. Threats are illegal. Extortion is illegal. Racketeering is illegal. And lobbying for our rights to be taken away because they diminish their ability to monitor what everyone - guilty and innocent alike - are up to is wrong. The cure is worse than the disease.

To illustrate my point, I'm pretty sure we both would agree that unregistered guns are used in a lot of violent crime. So do you think it would be reasonable to have a local group of concerned citizens search your house looking for some? Hand you some forms demanding you list what weapons you do have, and tell you that if you have any guns that aren't properly registered, you'll be in trouble? Offer bribes to people you know and offer them cash if they can recall seeing you with a gun?

You see, it's not what they are doing but how they are going about it that is the problem.

Re:Ok, an honest answer (1)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371019)

To illustrate my point, I'm pretty sure we both would agree that unregistered guns are used in a lot of violent crime. So do you think it would be reasonable to have a local group of concerned citizens search your house looking for some? Hand you some forms demanding you list what weapons you do have, and tell you that if you have any guns that aren't properly registered, you'll be in trouble? Offer bribes to people you know and offer them cash if they can recall seeing you with a gun?

OK, that's actually a pretty good analogy... And honestly when I think about it in those terms, you're right, the tactics do seem out of hand.

Re:Ok, an honest answer (2)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371231)

It's a terrible analogy. Unregistered guns are a criminal matter. Ordinary citizens have no right to act as police. Unlicensed software is a civil matter. Not only is the copyright holder allowed to pursue infringement cases, he is the only one (or his agent) who can. The only options they really have are to either get the business to voluntarily give up the information, or start an actual lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is started it gets very expensive for everyone.

Re:Ok, an honest answer (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371385)

Uh.. unregistered guns aren't a criminal matter in most US jurisdictions. California being the biggest exception.

Re:Ok, an honest answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371259)

Can you cite where the BSA pretended to be the police? What illegal threat did they make? What real evidence do you have of extortion or racketeering? All those buzzwords have very specific legal definitions and it doesn't appear to me that the BSA has engaged in any of those activities.

You gun analogy is a bunch of hogwash, too. You seem to know even less about gun laws than you do about software licensing.

Re:Just more anti-MS (3, Insightful)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371383)

Microsoft should have paid for that audit. How many man hours did the high school spend on it? Why should we, the taxpayers, pay for this? Those workers are our workers, not MS's workers, and we expect their time to be devoted to the work we hired them for. What's next, are we to frisk all the students to make sure they didn't steal any gum from the neighboring convenience store? Maybe anytime so much as a dry erase marker goes missing, we should lock all the students in the building until the thieving criminal scum who stole it fesses up, returns it, and apologizes to the entire school?

I find it very weird you seem to think this audit was okay. You're even grateful at how nice and sweet it was of MS not to penalize you. Wow, just wow. Would you be okay with your employees popping over to a temp agency to do a little extra work on the side while they are on the clock with you? If a former employee turns you in for some petty violation, are you going to admit you screwed up, and "take your medicine" with a smile because you deserved to be punished? Especially if it's not clear you did anything wrong?

What's the benefit for whistleblowers? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370901)

Seriously; I can think of one or two companies I've worked for, who illegally use MS and other proprietary products, that I would cherish the opportunity to return the fucking they gave me when I was wrongfully terminated for calling them out on their crimes.

Had I realized that I can actually be compensated for narcing on the rat bastards, I'd have done it years ago...

Its all a Business Model (5, Interesting)

dryriver (1010635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39370903)

In many developing countries, the software industry deliberately allowed piracy to run wild for a few years. This ensured that even small/poor companies would buy PCs and install the very best/latest/most expensive commercial tools on them, and get used to doing business with these tools. Then the BSA (backed diplomatically by the U.S./Canada/EU - or in other words "the ever-altruistic Western Powers") lobbied/armwrestled many developing world governments into letting the BSA raid companies with their lawyers. So one minute you were in an environment where nobody cared what software your company installed. The next minute, the BSA knocked your front door down with a threatening-sounding court order and a small army of lawyers, and demanded that you "pay up" for every bit of software installed on various PCs around the office. This was a few years before most open source tools became good enough to use. In the long-term, this has backfired mightily, because the scathing experience of having your office raided by BSA droids/lawyers has driven lots of businesses in the developing world to look seriously at Open Source tools.

BSA "stab in the back" advertisement (1)

ODBOL (197239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371041)

I distinctly remember in about 1999 I was walking through O'Hare airport and I saw an advertisement from the BSA posted on the wall. It had the caption, "Stab Your Boss in the Back," and a picture of a guy in a 3-piece suit with a knife in his back. I kick myself for not getting a photo of the sign. I have been hunting for a reliable record of this advertisement in vain.

So, anyone who can find a picture, or other testimony to that nasty BSA ad will be a hero.

There's a small chance that I remember wrong. Like Mark Twain, I have an excellent memory. I remember good things, and some of them happened.

Re:BSA "stab in the back" advertisement (3, Funny)

MimeticLie (1866406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371297)

Are you sure it wasn't a nail? [wired.com]

I remember a knife, but ... (1)

ODBOL (197239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371349)

You surely deserve the hero award for finding this one. I distinctly remember a knife, and a whole body in a suit, rather than a nail and a tie. My memory may be off, or there may have been variations. They are both pretty nasty, and suggest revenge far more than justice.

Re:BSA "stab in the back" advertisement (1)

ODBOL (197239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371435)

Can you provide a link to the Wired article, too? I should complete my notes and avoid hunting for this again during some other discussion.

Re:BSA "stab in the back" advertisement (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371445)

This [catplaysgames.com] is all I can find...

BSA only screws over small/mid sized companies. (1)

the_B0fh (208483) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371065)

Only problem is that BSA only screws small/mid size companies. I'm sure someone can turn this into a conspiracy lawsuit against them - since when have they gone after large companies? Never.

I know of at least two people who reported piracy to BSA, and BSA's response to the person who reported it was "we do not see any evidence of piracy".

Re:BSA only screws over small/mid sized companies. (1)

ODBOL (197239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371381)

Do you know which companies were accused, or how big they were? On the face of it, such a response could indicate a decent discretion on the part of BSA, not pursuing a frivolous case. Based on other reports of BSA behavior, I tend to suspect the worse interpretation, but testimony is so much better than suspicion ...

Only problem is that BSA only screws small/mid size companies. I'm sure someone can turn this into a conspiracy lawsuit against them - since when have they gone after large companies? Never.

I know of at least two people who reported piracy to BSA, and BSA's response to the person who reported it was "we do not see any evidence of piracy".

disregarding BSA's jurisdiction... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371135)

Relying on people to report crime / rulebreaking is generally how the system works. If employers want to run the risk of using software without paying, then they need to accept the responsibility of being caught. Most companies would probably end up paying for licenses if they are 'caught' and get a letter so the system works in favour of the publishers. The alternative is to use OSS and whilst it is adequate for many jobs, paid for software still beats OSS in many situations; photo, audio & video editing where I am concerned.
Besides, is this any worse than the UK government offering £500 for people shopping benefit cheats?

BSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39371177)

Bull Shit of America...

We refer you to the reply given in the case of (5, Informative)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371189)

Arkell v. Pressdram [wikipedia.org] :

"We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off."

Re:We refer you to the reply given in the case of (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371459)

Remember that case well. Quoted it often.

Ob. Letter (sent - and responded!) (4, Funny)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371275)

Dear BSA,

It has been a subject of much hilarity in this office that we should be sent a threatening letter from yourselves, a self-authority in software licensing with little to no legal authority to follow through on your threat.

However, for your records it should be noted that as a registered company of Legal Advocates (Company #07248227), one of the things we tend to do is ensure that we operate completely legally. As software goes, this means the purchase of license keys as and when necessary. While we are not at liberty to discuss details for reasons of client information security and more to the point, national security, we can assure you and your employers at Microsoft and Adobe that our licenses are copasetic. When you can show the following, we would gladly participate in a full audit, at your expense and on your time:

1. SCI-5 clearance signed by the Minister for Defence and the Home and Foreign Secretaries;
2. Written Royal assent for the potential of disclosure of information which could affect the safety and security of Royal members, Crown properties and/or Subjects;
3. A commitment to Non-Disclosure under Section 4 of the Official Secrets Act 1989, by persons thereto authorised to carry out the audit;
4. Assent by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales to cover the potential disclosure of information pertaining to live in camera proceedings;
5. Reference to the Authority of Law by which the BSA operate;
6. Reference to the Authority of Law which compels ourselves as individuals and the Company as a Legal entity to co-operate with a private concern whose singular purpose seems to be the extraction of money from legitimate businesses and individuals with zero return.

When (not before) all the above conditions are met, shall we even consider further correspondence.

Good Day to you, Sir.

-

Their response:

Sir,

We acknowledge receipt of your counteroffer, and hereby inform you that no further action shall be taken.

Faithfully,

pp.

Information from a BSA opponent (4, Informative)

ODBOL (197239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371311)

While hunting for material on BSA, I found the most concentrated anti-BSA material here: http://www.bsadefense.com/main/index.aspx [bsadefense.com]

This is a law firm that makes money defending businesses against BSA, so you can be as skeptical as you like. As far as I read, their claims agree with what I have learned elsewhere.

Evasion vs Mitigation (4, Informative)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | more than 2 years ago | (#39371329)

Any business owner should have a detailed register of their assets soft and hard. The register should be up to date, and it should be readily auditable. If you're serious about your business, the response to the BSA should be:

Here is our register - showing the dates that we have regularly internally audited it. Oh, and from a software perspective, here is our policy regarding workstation rebuilds to obliterate non-company software - and our log of workstation rebuilds. Oh, and here is our staff policy that makes employees responsible for any illegal/unlicensed software on their workstations. Feel free to come and audit our register at your own expense.

Any business that is not in a position to make this statement is not serious about being a business. I own a thriving software house and we have such a register, policies, etc. Let's face it folks - we're in IT. This kind of thing is almost trivial to set up - and it is relatively easy to maintain.
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