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Copyright Law Protection for Employees?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the between-an-ethical-rock-and-a-legal-hard-place dept.

Businesses 138

Copyright Fringement asks: "I've been constantly asked by my employer to install software (Office, XP, etc) on unauthorized computers, as well as duplicate copyrighted material (video, CD's) en masse. I know that there are watchdog agencies that look out for this kind of stuff, and it's setting my employer (or me) up for serious fines and Other Bad Things(tm), but is there a way to protect myself from said Bad Things (tm)? I've explained till I'm blue in the face, but the bosses always: get a glazed look; or give some nonsense explanation. I like my job, but I'm not taking the fall for these guys. What's a self respecting Slashdot reader to do?"

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What I'd suggest... (1)

dave-tx (684169) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901319)

I don't know if this would absolutely protect you, but ask your manager to tell you, in writing, that the computers are authorized for the software install.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

Reorax (629666) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901434)

Yeah, the same way a hitman can present written copies of his orders.

Oh, wait.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901463)

Holy bad analogy, Batman!

Re:What I'd suggest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12904043)

As someone who's job it is to support ms license sales to businesses for a large reseller, there are a couple of things I would suggest.

First, the owner of the PCs is responsible for their licensing. Thus you (personally) will not be liable for any fines relating to this. Though this says nothing about who gets blamed (and thus canned) internally.

Second, the majority of BSA audits are initiated by disgruntled employees, and involve nothing more than an anonymous call, email or web form. This risk is only heightened by poor management practices, such as you describe.

Finally, if you're serious about trying to convince your manager, your explanations need to induce fear of the consequences. The fine leveraged by the BSA for violations is $1000 per application. While this may initially look like merely double the price for office pro(~$450, without maintenance options), and so may be worth the risk, this is false. An office pro install consists of no less than 8 applications, making each unlicensed PC result in no less than $8000 in fines. And if they want to keep using ms office, they'll need to buy the licenses anyway.

So, while an average small business of 50 employees would cost $23000 to license office pro, using the unlicensed software anyway will make them liable for fines of $400000 or more, plus the $23000 it would have cost initially.

I bet openoffice.org will start to look better and better...

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901448)

Or just install it and move on down the road. This happens everywhere. The bigger the corp normally there are more violations. The only place I have ever worked (besides for myself) that had licenses for every piece of software was Arthur Andersen. Pretty funny huh?

Re:What I'd suggest... (3, Insightful)

toddbu (748790) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901486)

It's possible that even this is not enough. I once had to drive a truck down the road that was missing a tire and got pulled over and written a ticket. I went to court and fought the ticket on the grounds that my boss had told me to drive the vehicle rather than provide a new tire. I still lost the case. As the magistrate told me, "Your boss can't order you to do anything illegal". So if you get a letter from your boss saying that everything is ok, the actual act of asking him for the letter shows your suspicion, and if you get busted you could be asked why you didn't dig further.

Personally, I'd just tell the boss that I wouldn't install the software. I've had times that I've needed to tell me boss that I wouldn't participate in illegal activity. They don't like it, but it's the right thing to do.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

jasonmicron (807603) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901685)

Yea but that kind of knocks you down a few pegs on the ol' corporate ladder. It kind of cuts into the whole "ass-kissing" thing. :p

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

Deanasc (201050) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902028)

That sounds like one hell of a balancing act. Was it a stearing tire or a driving tire? Or both if a front wheel drive vehicle.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902141)

Some trucks have more than 4 tires. Ever hear of an "Eighteen-wheeler"?

Re:What I'd suggest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12903629)

Some trucks have more than 4 tires. Ever hear of an "Eighteen-wheeler"?

Yes, but how many tires do they have? :o)

Re:What I'd suggest... (2, Informative)

toddbu (748790) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902640)

It was a tire on a trailer that I was towing. We put too much weight in the back of the trailer and it started to fishtail while we were driving on the highway. The back end snapped around and popped the tire completely off the rim. As I was headed back to the shop, a cop spotted the missing tire and wrote me up. The law that he used was a Michigan law against studded snow tires. It prohibits direct metal contact with the road.

Re:What I'd suggest... (2, Informative)

cdwiegand (2267) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902632)

Indeed, mod parent up! Even with an official letter from the CEO on letterhead, it won't protect you in most places/situtations. YOUR EMPLOYER CANNOT FIRE YOU FOR NOT DOING ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES. IF YOU COMMIT A CRIME, *YOU* COMMITTED A CRIME. If they try to force you, talk to a lawyer. Most have a free or very low cost initial consultation - it helps them to ferret out the idiots who are just suing 'cause they're stupid from the people who actually have a case. And if you employer penalizes you for not doing an illegal activity, in most places that is illegal as well (although not all).

I am not a lawyer, this is NOT legal advise.
#include

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

Ommadawn (5636) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902837)

Similar issue: the company truck had expired plates - not just months, but *years* expired. as in, 2002 tags on one, 2001 on the other, in 2004. I told him (the boss) several times that the plates were expired.. yeah,yeah,yeah.. guess who was driving when the truck got pulled over? me. Whose responsibility? Mine.

He said he'd pay the ticket, but he didn't, with the result i'm still dealing with it a year later, and this is just an "expired tags" ticket.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

Suppafly (179830) | more than 9 years ago | (#12904116)

most places, if you are driving a company vehicle they are responsible for things like tags.. you could at least sue your boss.

Re:What I'd suggest... (2, Informative)

Mattcelt (454751) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901805)

Perhaps the best course of action is to call the BSA yourself and offer information in return for immunity. Get a lawyer to figure out the language, b/c you want to make sure:
a) they will not sue you personally
b) they will not press criminal charges against you
c) they will do everything in their power, including have their legal team represent you at their cost, to protect you if anybody else sues you, fires you, files criminal charges, etc.

I have no idea if it will work, but it's worth a shot asking - the BSA has an 'anonymous' hotline [bsa.org] you can call and get at least a preliminary understanding of how they work.

If the BSA isn't willing to help you, they can't very well hold you accountable, I wouldn't think.

Just a thought.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902465)

An anonymous hotline doesn't help if you are turning over evidence in exchange for amnesty...

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

ogre57 (632144) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902290)

An addition to this written and signed statement, have your boss agree to indemnify you against any and all legal action that may result from such activity, expressly including that he/she will personally pay any resulting fines and serve any resulting prison time. Might get the point across.

And, if your boss is dumb enough to actually sign such a thing, and if you want the job, show the signed statement to his/her boss.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902519)

Doesn't work. A signed statement from your boss saying that he takes all the blame isn't an authorized contract for the copyright holder. In other words, it is the copyright holder's wishes that you have to abide by, not your boss's.

Re:What I'd suggest... (1)

ogre57 (632144) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903169)

Didn't mean to imply it would work from a legal standpoint. Intent is to try to shock some reality into the (theoretical) mind of the PHB. Granted this is normally a futile undertaking. But if the fool actually signed such a thing .. "Hey, boss's boss, take a look at ..". Alternative, noted by many others, is to rat out to someone like the BSA thugs; am trying for a "nicer" solution.

No protection for employees (4, Informative)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901321)

There is no protection just because you are an employee following orders. Technically, you and all of your supervisors all the way up to the president of the company, and the company itself, are individually and collectively guilty of copyright infringement, even if you don't know it is going on. If you *do* know then you are not only guilty, but willfully in violation. In either case, all of you can be sued individually.

Speculating here, in practice the copyright holder would probably attempt to sue anyone with the ability to pay (which may still include you, although for a smaller amount than the company might be sued for). And in front of a jury you might get off using the victim defense (i.e. if you could convince the jury that you were afraid of losing your job, etc.). You'd probably still be found guilty but you might escape a fine (at least in a civil suit). At the very least you should document each time you are told to install an illegal copy f something (who, when, what, where, and your protest to your supervisor at the time). Sounds like that could be a full time chore in your case.

Re:No protection for employees (2, Interesting)

sudog (101964) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902388)

If the employee doesn't know it's going on, the person responsible is the one in charge handing him the software and saying "Install this, it's authorised, bought and paid for."

No employee should expect to shoulder the burden of verifying that every single thing they do conforms to every possible law and is in fact legal when their bosses give orders and make false or misleading claims. It's an impossible expectation.

Re:No protection for employees (2, Interesting)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902598)

I agree with you but copyright law doesn't. You can still be found guilty and the minimum fine is $200 per occurrence last I heard. However, I would also agree that a jury would probably feel the same as you in most circumstances and acquit (but this would be from a human standpoint, not from a point of law).

Re:No protection for employees (1)

pthisis (27352) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903182)

However, I would also agree that a jury would probably feel the same as you in most circumstances and acquit (but this would be from a human standpoint, not from a point of law).

No, it's a point of law. Jury nullification is legal and well-established through court rulings and precedence. It's not codified, but neither are a lot of other court precedents.

No Contracts to Break the Law (1)

ObligatoryUserName (126027) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902542)

I don't know if it's this way in all states, but I've been told that it is impossible to make a legal contract to commit an illegal act. So, you maintain personal responsibility for breaking the law and cannot hide behind loyalty to your company or contractual obligation because you cannot be compelled into action by any prior agreement.

Re:No protection for employees (1)

Cthefuture (665326) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902825)

Doesn't a corporation (or LLC) provide protection against this kind of stuff?

In other words, if anyone gets sued it would be the corporate entity not an individual. The corporation takes any legal heat. I thought that was the whole point of having a corporation.

Re:No protection for employees (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902950)

That protects shareholders, not employees.

Re:No protection for employees (1)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902990)

it provides that protection to the stockholders and investors, not the employees

Re:No protection for employees (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903002)

In general, being incorporated, or working for a corporation, limits your risk in that a corporation's bad choices cannot risk your personal property, etc. But this doesn't protect you from the consequences of your own illegal actions, whether or not you were directed to perform the action by the corporation.

If that were possible, everyone would form a corporation and then commit all of the illegal actions they wanted. Once caught, they'd fall back on the corporation guilty, individual innocent defense.

Re:No protection for employees (2, Insightful)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902940)

In a civil case, it would make no sense to sue the employee as opposed to spending all efforts going after the company's big bucks. I don't think the individual has much to worry about. Besides, most people don't know exactly how many licenses the company has purchased since it isn't their responsibility to keep track; it's the company's.

Get it in writing... (1)

Rolan (20257) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901326)

...would be a good start. At least then you can show that you told your boss why it shouldn't be done and that he told you to do it anyway.

Re:Get it in writing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901511)

yeah unfortunately most of the stuff you would have to get in writing... but then theres the catch that you wrote up why something was illegal and you do it anyway... if i were you i would lie and say that theres newer software protection and your key will not work... then come up with a budget to get them up to par and legaly, and get them to sign that.... so then if you did get in trouble it would show the measures you have been taking to get things cleaned up...

Re:Get it in writing... (1)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903498)

... or not.

With a paper trail, it's pretty certain that you were the one doing the installs. Without it, they will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you were the person who did the install in every instance which they claim is a violation. That's not an easy get. It'll be much easier for them to prove malfeasance on the part of the corporation than to prove it on the part of a single person.

Re:Get it in writing... (1)

Rolan (20257) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903769)

In a corproate environment, unless you make an effort to hide who installed the software, it's typically pretty easy to figure it out. When it comes down to it, you're company's going to blame you anyway and claim ignorance. If you have it in writing, they can't get away with that.

Due diligence (1)

spooky_nerd (646914) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903638)

I don't know how much this would really help you if the BSA did a raid, but there is the concept of due diligence. You need to be able to show that you made an effort to follow copyright instructions and get your boss to do the same.

Give them the invoice (3, Interesting)

redog (574983) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901327)

Buy the software and give them the bill.

Re:Give them the invoice (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12902436)

Hopefully with the company's money and not yours...

Report them! (2, Informative)

alta (1263) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901348)

Go to http://www.nopiracy.com/ [nopiracy.com]

And fill out the form.

Yeah, right... Maybe if there was a bounty. Is there a bounty? Hmmmm

Re:Report them! (3, Interesting)

Col. Klink (retired) (11632) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901438)

Or just print out that page and anonymously leave copies in common areas. After all, if you like your job, you don't want the company shut down or even disrupted.

Re:Report them! (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903761)

I think leaving anonymous copies would be a bit obvious since only the person installing the software would have a concern. Most users don't care whether the software is licensed or not as long as it works.

Would you work for a company that's asking you to do something illegal? That's not a job I would keep. I left one company because the boss insisted that I work seven days/80+ hours a week even though the company has a six days/60 hours a week policy, and HR was looking the other way. You got to know your limitations and when to fold them.

If you're interested in money.... (3, Funny)

Prien715 (251944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901374)

Talk to one of these so-called watchdog groups and offer testimony in exchange for diplomatic immunity and a tidy sum (because you risk losing your job).

Machiavellian? Maybe. Remember the alternative: participating in blatant ethics violations that you know are wrong but decide to do anyway.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

Inominate (412637) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901591)

in exchange for diplomatic immmunity?
Is he working for the UN or something?

Re:If you're interested in money.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901890)

probably, the UN are theives of the highest order.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

jon787 (512497) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901893)

Does the whistle blower protection stuff cover this?

Personally my job does not include keeping track of licensing, that is my boss's job. My boss gets the requests, signs off on them, and gives me the work orders. Unless I am given evidence otherwise I just assume my boss actually checked the licenses. I have had to return a few that request some software which is only free for personal use though.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902771)

Whistleblower protection is for an employee's protection from the company's retribution. The copyright holder isn't required to protect you from penalties for your participation in copyright infringement, although they may voluntarily do so if you are the one who reports the infringement (but again, they wouldn't be required to do so).

The truth is, while everyone is responsible by law to know if a copyright is being infringed, in reality (as you point out) it's not practical and a jury would probably side with you when it came to setting a fine. If you *do* know, however, and the copyright holder can prove it, then look out cause all bets are off (as they say :).

Keep in mind there's a difference in copyright infringement and being penalized for it (if you copy it without permission then it is infringement - the infringing part is the act of copying, not whether you know it is copyrighted or not).

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

SilverspurG (844751) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903719)

Whistleblower protection is for an employee's protection from the company's retribution
There's no whistleblower protection at goals and expectations setting time. When your boss gives you next year's goals, and you've got 20, and next year's expectations, and you've been asked to do things far outside your realm of control... there's no whistleblower protection. Next year, at performance review time, you'll get reamed six ways to Sunday, a 0% raise, and maybe even demoted. When you finally quit from being burned out there's no whistleblower protection for the state of mind you're left in.

Best to just do what the company asks and cover your butt as quietly as possible.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903970)

In theory sure there is. The goals and expectations end up being provably out of line with what other people were getting (i.e. they took revenge) and the company gets nailed by the department of labor so hard it isn't funny (like being shut down). On the other hand the department of labor enfocement hasn't happened it any meaingful sense since Carter was president.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

wolf31o2 (778801) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902190)

Basically, you need to look at it like this. Can you risk the possibility of having the BSA or some other watchdog group coming after you personally? If not, then you should take a strong stand. Your first course of action is to scare the shit out of your boss, not by making threats, but by getting documented evidence of just what happens to companies that willfully break copyright law. Find the absolute worst examples you can come up with to show to them. Perhaps if they realize that they can be sued personally, and in some cases even spend time in jail, they might see things in a different light.

Re:If you're interested in money.... (1)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903123)

Why is this rated funny? It's probably the best last-resort solution. If they absolutely won't listen to you, they'll still listen to the BSA.

And the BSA doesn't necessarily have to raid your workplace; they just have to give your boss a nice, friendly call.

Refuse (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901400)

Get it in writing that they are asking you to do it ... then refuse ... and sue them when they fire you.

Re:Refuse (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901680)

I knew a reply like this was going to come up. And I kind of knew that I was going to see it modded up. But... this is just a ridiculous way to look at things. Small companies do things like this all the time. I worked for a small consulting firm, that was an awesome place to work for, paid well, and they treated us great. But... their software licensing practices were shady at best. I didn't feel entirely comfortable about installing software I knew we didnt have a license for, but in the end I liked my job, played dumb and installed whatever. The place had kind of a cowboy culture to it and even if I went against the boss and he caved, I would have been branded "not one of them" and my future there would have been hurt.

THINK about what you are saying. Youre telling this guy to piss off his boss to the point where he may be fired or considered not a team player and passed over for opportunities, and then sue them. Ok so the guy gets fired, with what money is he going to sue them? His gravy train that was paying his mortgage and feeding his kids with a little left over is gone, and hes going to spend his reserve cash on suing his ex-employer? Did you think about what would happen if he wins? He might win his job back. Yeaaah, thats really going to work out swell. After all the hassle, he might win a few months worth of wages after losing sleep over a legal battle for months.

I've heard the retort "well if the company does things like this, this isnt a company you want to work for." It just does not hold water. The company might be awesome in all other respects, but they don't feel that software piracy is something to be concerned about. You must put yourself in his position. When the choice is to walk out on a job and cut yourself off from your source of income, or to just install the damn software, I am betting you will just install the damn software.

In a .com world, where you might have been able to walk out the door on Friday and be walking into another company on Monday, I might agree with you. But this is a small issue in the grand scheme of things where you may be facing the reality of prolonged unemployment.

Re:Refuse (1)

qwijibo (101731) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902914)

Thank you.

Every company does some things wrong. You just have to decide if that company does so much wrong that you can't live with it.

Re:Refuse (1)

pthisis (27352) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903350)

THINK about what you are saying. Youre telling this guy to piss off his boss to the point where he may be fired or considered not a team player and passed over for opportunities, and then sue them. Ok so the guy gets fired, with what money is he going to sue them?

I agree, suing them is unrealistic. It's potentially worth documenting anyway, if they're going to fire you you can point out that it's illegal and essentially settle with them--but at that point relations are going to be SOUR, so it's probably only a stopgap to keep you working while you job hunt.

I've heard the retort "well if the company does things like this, this isnt a company you want to work for." It just does not hold water. The company might be awesome in all other respects, but they don't feel that software piracy is something to be concerned about.

This is BS. It's one thing if a company has some policies you don't want, asks you to work more weekends than you'd like, etc. I could maybe see overlooking them installing illegal copies of software for you to use--I'd have a problem with that, but I haven't been in that situation to know if I'd actually walk or not.

But it's an entirely different thing if they order you to commit illegal actions. It's not worth it, especially since you know it's illegal--you're accepting personal liability beyond the payment you're getting from the job.

That sucks (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901414)

My advice...

1) Talk to your corporate counsel. If they're not idiots (which isn't a given), they'll realize you're doing them a favor.

2) Don't sweat it. This is between you and your conscience. You may theoretically be liable for these violations, but nobody will be coming after you personally, especially if you have a paper trail covering your ass and super-especially if you've gone to your lawyers.

But, yeah, stuff liek this sucks, especially in a small company.

Re:That sucks (2, Insightful)

Wolfger (96957) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902166)

2) Don't sweat it. This is between you and your conscience. You may theoretically be liable for these violations, but nobody will be coming after you personally, especially if you have a paper trail covering your ass and super-especially if you've gone to your lawyers.
s/especially/if and only if/
If you don't cover your butt, you can pretty much expect that your company has documented that you installed the pirated software, and they will do their best to make you the fall guy for it all. Do not trust your company to be altruistic, nice, or even honest. Failure to do as the boss asks can damage your job, but doing what he wants could ruin your life. Document the heck out of your objections. Ask your boss to put the order in writing (or "send me a quick e-mail clarifying what you want").

Re:That sucks (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902906)

[...]your company has documented that you installed the pirated software, and they will do their best to make you the fall guy for it all

Wouldn't work for the company. No amount of documentation of your activities would get them off the hook. They would be guilty if they knew or didn't know, and if they instructed you or didn't instruct you to infringe. The company's best defense would be to show that they had procedures in place to periodically audit their computers, and they found and removed the illegal software as soon as they could have reasonably been expected to do so. Anything less and they will end up paying big bucks. On the other hand, if *you* document the infringement, later you might be able to convince the jury that you were a victim (along with the copyright holder). Then, you might get away with it with no penalty (but no guarantees).

Re:That sucks (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903341)

We can disagree about the probability of the guy's getting screwed, but I think we agree that he'd be wise to take precautions against it.

Fake a letter email from MS telling them to stop! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901415)

Fake a letter email from MS telling them to stop! I'm sure you can make the email look like it came from MS's progrom that sniffs out cheats... PUT THE FEAR of litigation in them!

Re:Fake a letter email from MS telling them to sto (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902109)

Parent's modded Funny, but it's more like Insightful. The point is: scare them.

Tell the Powers That Be that you're afraid that some disgruntled employee might turn them in. You like your job, so that's not gonna be you, and make sure they can see that. But it's a very real danger and you're trying to look out for the company. That's the message to bring them.

With that said (and especially if they still brush you off), you might want to consider just how much you like that job. If the company's asking you to do something unlawful for which you'd have take some of the blame, that's not exactly a company that cares about its people, y'know? I used to be "the PC guy" for a regional retailer that populated its entire corporate office with a single license each for Lotus 123 and WordPerfect. I'd include software in the purchase req. for a new PC, and one of the VPs would say "We already have that." (I finally persuaded them to start buying more licenses... to get more manuals.) Stupid stupid rat creatures. That was a warning sign, and I'm glad I got out when I did (before they imploded from executive incompetence).

Documentation (5, Insightful)

bitty (91794) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901637)

Get them to give you those orders in writing . Then explain to them why you won't do it in writing . Take both documents to their corporate lawyers and keep a copy at home for safe keeping. Now you not only have a paper trail of the situation to protect yourself should the company get audited, you have ammo against them should they try to fire you for not following orders.

What they're asking you to do is violate copyright, and it's just plain wrong. Should you comply, you're opening yourself up to a world of hurt. If the company gets nailed you will be hung out to dry. You would be the one doing the copying and unauthorized installs, not management. The managers can claim they didn't know you were doing it and are shocked -- shocked! that you would to such a thing.

Re:Documentation (1)

seanellis (302682) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901943)

This is easily the best suggestion so far. Mod parent up!

It will require a lot of courage to go through with it, though. Point out the fact, however, that you are protecting the company as a whole against potential liability, and you're not just doing it to be petty-minded.

Re:Documentation (2, Interesting)

mutterc (828335) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903492)

I've pushed and pushed before to try to get orders in writing (or even email) (not because they were illegal, but because they were a Bad Idea).

I've never been successful. I do passive-aggressive resistance instead ("sure, I'll put that on my to-do list") - the bosses are too busy to keep badgering me about every little thing.

You're breaking the law (4, Insightful)

mcgroarty (633843) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901659)

What would you do if your employer asked you to break into a competitor's office and copy their contract files? How about if he asked you to go buy him some drugs and hire him a prostitute?

Just beacuse it's a crime with a lesser chance of getting caught doesn't change the nature of the act. (Not that the spy and hooker job wouldn't be hella awesome...) You refuse to do it, or you break the law. You don't isolate yourself from responsibility for your commission of a criminal act.

Re:You're breaking the law (3, Funny)

Zork the Almighty (599344) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902546)

How about if he asked you to go buy him some drugs and hire him a prostitute?

Make sure I get some too ? It's the one lesson we all learned in kindergarden: if you're going to get hookers and blow, make sure you bring enough for everybody.

Re:You're breaking the law (2, Insightful)

Suppafly (179830) | more than 9 years ago | (#12904080)

Just beacuse it's a crime with a lesser chance of getting caught doesn't change the nature of the act. (Not that the spy and hooker job wouldn't be hella awesome...) You refuse to do it, or you break the law. You don't isolate yourself from responsibility for your commission of a criminal act.

Now if /. would just learn the difference between civil law and criminal law we'd be good to go. I guess apples to oranges comparisons are more interesting though.

It is time to look for another gig (4, Insightful)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901687)

The company's values are not the same as yours. You have only two choices:
  1. Change your values to match theirs, or
  2. Find a place that shares the same values.
They will not change, and you cannot change them.

This is not a bad thing, per se. It just means you and they have different values. Would you work at a lab where they routinely sprayed oven cleaner in Rabbits' eyes (even if you weren't the sprayer)? What about at a place that dumped chemicals into streams (even if you weren't the dumper)? How about a place that forced some employees to work in very unsafe conditions (even if you didn't work in unsafe conditions)?

We all have a choice. You can either stay or go; being the "whistleblower" means that you will be leaving almost immediately as you take your parting shot on the way out.

Go for the reward (1)

nixman99 (518480) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901769)

Report them. You might get up to $50K reward. Let us know how much you really get.
http://www.siia.net/piracy/report.asp [siia.net]

not surprising (2, Interesting)

teksno (838560) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901854)

after this ask /., its not surprising we get stories like this: http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/06/24/051 7229&tid=185&tid=98&tid=218 [slashdot.org]

how is the general public supposed to find copyright infringment wrong when companies are doing it, and your boss is telling you to do it...

Not that this helps much... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12901857)

What's a self respecting Slashdot reader to do?

But why is anyone with self respect reading /. ?

Wrong question (3, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901908)

We really need an end to Ask Slashdots that request legal advice. Leaving aside the legal and ethical problems of providing legal advice from non-lawyers, the potential for harm to the questioner from misinformed Slashdotters is mind-boggling!

Fortunately small in this case. My very inexpert opinion is that an employee who does something illegal at his bosses request has no more legal coverage than if he acted at his own initiative. But the chances of your being prosecuted or sued are very small -- in past situations like yours, the IP police have gone after the company, not the individual employees. Of course there's no guarantee that they'll always do this.

The question you should be asking is "What do I do?" There's no simple answer there. You say you like your job, but you're also concerned about the legal risks you're running. You have to weigh one against the other. And this is something you just have to do for yourself. You're the one at risk of unemployment and/or legal peril. Only you can decide how important all the factors are.

It's certainly not fair that your bosses have put you in this position. But that's the kind of shit that we all have to deal with.

If you're determined to put an end to this situation, there are various outs -- all of which put your job at risk.

  • Simply refuse to make any more pirate installations.
  • Narc on your company to the IP police.
  • Find somebody in the company bureaucracy who sees things your way. The legal department would probably not be happy to know that managers are putting the company at risk this way. The HR department might also be helpful.
Legally, your bosses can't retaliate against you for doing any of the above. Doesn't mean they won't, or that they won't get away with it.

Give us a call! (1)

bluephone (200451) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901944)

Hi, my name's Bob S. Arrow. You can call me BSA for short. I can help you out of your situation! Just give me a call at home, my number is 1-888-667-4722 (It's pure coincidence that my phone number spells NO-PIRACY) and give me your name, place of employment, their phone number, address, and what software they're asking you to copy and I'll help you out in not time! Pay no attention to the swarm of lawyerbots and accountants swooping through your office windows...

call the bsa (1)

capoccia (312092) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901945)

call the bsa anonymously.

Re:call the bsa (2, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902046)

If you call the BSA anonymously, they will not know who you are. So when they sue your employer, you'll get sued too.

Yup, been there (1)

Komarosu (538875) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901951)

I was in pritty much the same situation, but this time it was local goverment, and not only that but they'd been caught with it before. New IT manager, new mistakes. He ordered everyone around to "bend the rules, and we'll fix it later". but they never got round to it.

Problem was he started getting shirty about my personal blog when i made a joke about one of the councillors in the area. So much so i ended up resigning. A quick talk with the BSA and now i hear that idiot is also out of a job.

While i've technically done a "Good Thing"(tm) i still feel a bit evil as my actions generally cause another person to loose his job.

While being a snitch is the best way to fuck someone over, make sure you have the heart to commit fully to your actions.

Nonsense - he screwed himself (3, Insightful)

Roadkills-R-Us (122219) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902037)

While i've technically done a "Good Thing"(tm) i still feel a bit evil as my actions generally cause another person to loose his job.

No, his actions caused him to lose his job. Had he behaved ethically and responsibly, he would still have his job. He asked for it, he got it (Toyota).

Re:Yup, been there (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902413)

This is one of the best truisms I ever heard: if you never piss anyone off, you're probably not doing anything worthwhile.

I'm a nice guy. My natural inclination is to be everybody's friend. If you never have to deal with people whose views may disagree with yours, then that's great.

But sometimes, you have money involved. Sometimes, your relationship with someone puts one of you in a senior position within some organisation. Sometimes, you simply have a strong difference of opinion with someone, or your ethics mean you disapprove of their behaviour. In these cases, it's impossible to be everyone's friend all the time.

I've come to the conclusion that when this happens, the only two things that count are having principles you believe in, and sticking to them. To me, and amongst other things, that means you back people up when they deserve your help, you deal with people with honesty and integrity, you negotiate firmly but fairly, and if someone is doing something wrong, the consequences are their responsibility, and theirs alone.

Report them to the BSA (1)

EvilMagnus (32878) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901973)

Report them to the BSA.

They'll come in, do an audit, fine the beezubus out of them, and give you a cut.

Then take that money as a severance package and get a job with some folks who aren't complete kneebiters.

I dislike the BSA as much as the next /.'er, but if you're a business, and you can't afford the software license, then use something else. Don't copy it. It's not like there aren't GPL'ed software for most needs.

Let Microsoft be the bad guy. (1)

Deanasc (201050) | more than 9 years ago | (#12901975)

Tell them you got a phone call from Microsoft asking you why there are two copies of the program using the same account number. You know, kind of like what this guy [boingboing.net] did.

Re:Let Microsoft be the bad guy. (1)

hacker (14635) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903425)

You realize the professor made completely falsified threats [boingboing.net] , right? The thief kept the laptop and I'm sure the professor lost a lot of credibility.

You'll be fine...just CYA (1)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902020)

There's alot of paranoia going around, huh? Yeah, if you knowingly break the law under company orders, you're still breaking the law, but criminal charges for something like this are generally unlikely. In cases like this, businesses are usually held responsible...and the business will look for an employee scapegoat. At this point, I should probably get the IANAL out of the way...so IANAL.

Here's what I'd do, send a written meno to your boss and his/her boss. Make sure that they get it, and make sure that you save a copy for yourself. In the memo, make it clear that you are unsure of the legality of what you are doing, but you will move forward on their orders under the assumption that the manager who assigned you to do the work obtained the proper licenses (list their name). Also note your objection to this in the case that the proper licenses are not in place. This will take care of the CYA part. Now, the burden is on them.

Don't call the BSA if you still want to work there. Those guys are dicks, and they'll surely audit your company, and you will be the guy doing all the work. It will make your life very difficult. You will have to prove that you purchased every license for every piece of BSA software on every machine in your company. It's a sucky process, and in the end, the BSA typically waive any charges if your company buys all of their missing licenses and promises not to screw up again. To complicate matters, your company will have a pretty good idea that you called the BSA on them (since you've already raised a small stink).

On the other hand, if you're really pissed that they put you in that position in the first place...don't install the software and find another job. I still wouldn't call the BSA on them, because I've got a thing about not burning bridges (and again, they'll probably put two and two together to have an idea that it was you who blew the whistle). I'm sure that they'll eventually get theirs without your intervention.

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12902048)

Reach around behind you, get a firm grip on the stick lodged up your ass, and pull.

Your best defense (1)

aminorex (141494) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902074)

Your best defense is to anonymously report them to the BSA and the FBI, and to demand from each of those organizations a confirmation code that you can use to identify yourself as the informer in court, should you ever be faced with criminal prosecution or a similarly damaging civil judgement. There's no reason to sacrifice your job because your employer is breaking the law.

Union (1)

srobert (4099) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902156)

The last time I was in a similar situation, it wasn't as much about the legality of my action but the safety of employees and customers that drove me to tell an officer of my company that I would not be able to follow his instructions. That was a union job and I had seniority. I knew that the union would back me up. Pissed them off but they weren't able to fire me.
My advice: organize.

For get your job - it is dead anyway (1)

bluGill (862) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902267)

Forget about your job. The company is dead, and therefore your job is dead. They just don't know it yet.

There are whistle blower laws in place to protect you, but you better be working with the police if you want to apply them. (This may be a civil matter where they don't apply)

Update your resume tonight. The only reason you wouldn't take a new job (even for less money) is if you were collecting evidence, even then you should ask them what you should do.

Contact every piracy organization you can find, and ask their advice. Insist of getting everything in writing.

Get a lawyer. 1 hour with the right lawyer can easily be worth the cost. (You only need 15 minutes of their time, the rest is time for them to research the laws that apply)

I'd tell you to sell your stock, but that would be considered trading on insider information, so I'm not sure if you are safe to do so.

Most important, consider your current company bankrupt - they will be soon anyway.

Re:For get your job - it is dead anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12902814)

Don't you have to be a corporate officier or legal counsel or other special position to count as an "insider" ?

dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12903897)

Dead? You're joking. I don't remember the numbers, but I know that a very significant fraction of small businesses use at least some pirated software*. This guy's employers are no deader than the rest of them unless he deliberately decides to cause trouble, and even then it's a case of inspections and fines rather than dismantling the company.
Copyright laws *cannot* be strictly and universally enforced right now, because it'd put too much of the workforce in prison - what sane democratic country would do that?

*Not to mention an even larger fraction of home computer users...

Get legal counsel (2, Insightful)

GlL (618007) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902551)

Everyone that has posted has an opinion, Some of them make more sense than others, but none of us are lawyers. The best thing for you to do is to get advice from an attorney. NOW! Before a disgruntled employee other than you calls the BSA or other agency.

Re:Get legal counsel (3, Informative)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903119)

Good advice. If you are routinely required to do something you know is illegal, your first stop should be at an attorney's office.

By the way, I'm not an attorney but I am married to one and I get a layman's explanation on lots of interesting legal subjects (my wife requires me to say that I have NOT asked her for and she has NOT given me advice to pass on the Slashdot on any subject, past or present).

resign (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12902599)

Seriously, find another position. In a similar position I wound up paying a 10,000 dollar fine and spending jail time plus 2 years on probation .. eventually my record was cleared but the years of struggle were not worth it.

Insightful AC posting, film at 11 (2, Insightful)

metamatic (202216) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902941)

You need to bear in mind that copying more than 10 copies of a piece of software, worth more than $2,500 total, is a felony if it is done (a) deliberately and (b) with intent to violate copyrights.

The courts would have no trouble at all proving that you deliberately made the copies, knew you were violating copyright, and hence did it deliberately.

They would also have no problem proving that it was done for commercial gain, since it was clearly saving the company money. Hence, you would personally be liable for not just a huge fine, but also a term of up to 5 years in federal prison.

As someone else has already pointed out, your boss ordering you to do something illegal does not remove your liability under law. Doesn't matter if you have your orders in writing, you are still expected to obey the law or face the consequences.

Even if you don't report the company, sooner or later someone at Microsoft will notice that a company with N employees only has 1 licensed copy of Windows, and they'll ask questions. They've gone after public schools and charities, damn right they'll go after a profit-making company without hesitation.

So, the real question you should be asking yourself is: do you love your job so much that you are willing to risk an ass-pounding in prison to keep it for a while? Personally, I wouldn't take that risk.

That's the selfish argument. Now the altruistic argument.

By shielding the company from the true costs of proprietary software, you are aiding Microsoft. If your bosses had the choice of paying for Office or using OpenOffice, they might make a smart decision based on the actual merits of the products. Right now, you are assisting Microsoft in maintaining their monopoly.

Tell them about the BSA (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902650)

I would tell your boss that it just takes one disgruntled employee to make an anonymous call to the BSA. If they tip them off that there is illegal software, they can show up for an audit. Tell him that they could be fined $10,000 for each violation and all it would take would be an anonymous phonecall.

I like to mention the disgruntled employee thing, because it puts things into terms they can understand.

Re:Tell them about the BSA (1)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903102)

I like to mention the disgruntled employee thing, because it puts things into terms they can understand.


Terms they can mis-understand, you mean. Putting it like this will almost guarantee that your boss will take this as a threat by you to do exactly what you describe.

Making your boss think you are threatening him is NEVER a good thing.

This guy's boss is clearly incapable of understanding ANYTHING more complicated than a nipple - and people like that judge everybody else by their own set of morals. His boss has no problem screwing other people - do you think his boss wil NOT think "Hey, this guy's trying to screw me 'cause that's what I'd do?"

Again, as many others have already said:
  • Get the requests in writing, signed by your boss, on company letterhead. DO NOT accept an email, or a simple scribble on a random piece of paper is NOT good enough to stand in court.
  • Respond to the requests in writing on company letterhead, detailing your concerns.
  • Send copies of both your boss's letter and your response to your company's legal counsel, along with a cover letter summarizing your concerns about the legality of the actions.

What's a self respecting Slashdot reader to do? (1)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 9 years ago | (#12902959)

Probably start visiting another site, as we don't take kindly to no rootin tootin "self respectin'" folks around here =P

e.

Is it worth your job? (1)

Carik (205890) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903059)

Before you can figure out what to do, you should decide whether it's worth your job. If you report them, and they find out, they'll certainly start looking for an excuse to fire you. If you simply refuse, they'll probably HAVE an excuse to fire you.

Personally, I would report them, and hope like hell that they never found out it was me. I'd also start looking for a new job.

Before going that route, though, there are a few things you could try.

- Put it in writing. Filing a formal protest with your supervisor is a good first step. If you can give them dollar amounts for the fines for each piece of software, they might respect it.

- Offer alternatives. Look around for the best price on each piece of software, look for free/cheap alternatives, find ways to get licenses that let you do what you need to but won't cost as much. This will (hopefully) show the boss that you're not just saying "This can't be done," but trying to work to find a better alternative.

- If your supervisor has a boss, you could try discussing it with them. My experience has been that, in most companies, there's someone somewhere along the chain of command who understands that legal trouble is a Bad Thing, and can order their underlings to obey the law, or at least be less obvious in breaking it.

- If all else fails, I suggest leaving the company. If they're willing to break one set of laws, they're liable to be willing to break others. Once you know they're unreliable, you should start looking for ways to get out. Yes, I've done this. Yes, being unemployed sucks. The fact is, you can usually find SOME other job, and it's better than getting caught up in the wreck when the copyright holders catch up to your current company. And once you're gone? Report the suckers.

BSA Press "hit" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12903067)

Congrats go out to the BSA for submitting a fake "question" to Slashdot in order to get "free" coverage. I find it suspect that just days after a posting on slashdot about Microsoft's Genuine Advantage being cracked, this "question" gets posted to Slashdot. Yeah BSA, I heard your advert on the radio this morning too, but ignored it.... Faking a "question" is much more effective against slashdotters.

We're missing the obvious answer (2, Insightful)

dheltzel (558802) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903165)

Come on guys! This is /.

Explain that they will need to pay for the software before you install it, but if they want you to install Linux and OpenOffice, then you'll be happy to comply and it won't cost them anything for the software.

bust his ass (1)

john_is_war (310751) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903244)

and e-mail M$ about this... and watch yourself climb the ladder

Forget the BSA ... (1)

Kiaser Zohsay (20134) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903305)

If the company is publicly traded, you only need two words: Sarbanes-Oxley [sarbanes-oxley.com] .

You're fine (1)

kajoob (62237) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903345)

You're in the clear for two reasons:

1.) You don't have nearly as much money as your employer, so a software company isn't going to sue you. They're going to sue the employer. Seriously, you go for the deep pockets - not the guy installing software.

2.) The legal doctrine of "Respondeat Superior" covers you. It pretty much means that the "Employer answers for the crimes of the Employee". If a software company is going to sue for infringment, it's as if the lawsuit passes through you and onto your employer BUT only if what you did was within the scope of your employment. If you were installing the infringing software on your own free will, then you're in trouble. However, if you installed the software at the direction of your superior, then they're the one that is in hot water - not you.

So in sum - you are not in trouble and have no duty to disclose under the law, although whistleblower statutes would protect you if you did. I think the best thing for you to do is realize that it's friday and that pretty soon you should be drinking mass quantities of beer. Cheers!

***This is NOT legal advice and I am not you're attorney. If you have serious legal questions, you should seek counsel in your jurisdiction - the laws may be different***

Are you sure? Civil vs Crim (1)

redelm (54142) | more than 9 years ago | (#12903666)

What do you know? Do you know that they haven't struck some kind of deal with the software vendors? Since I doubt the amount rises to the level of criminal copyright infringement, your burden in upholding the law is less.

I would send a nicely worded email to your boss (&whoever else relevant) stating you will be glad to install the software, but the company needs to make sure it has correct licences. You also need a series of activation keys because otherwise "false" alarm bells may be ringing at MS. And print & keep emails offsite.

What's a self respecting Slashdot reader to do? (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 9 years ago | (#12904198)

self respecting?

Just install ubuntu, firefox, thunderbird on the machines, and place a windows Longhorn [top secret] wallpaper on the desktop, and tell you boss you got the latest windows W4r3z on the computer, and within 3 months everyone woudl haev seamlessly gone from typing

>>john@drinkbeer.com[tab]I am bored at work[tab]Hi JJ, I need some beer, fuck work, my boss is a twat.

and clicking send to typing

>>john@drinkbeer.com[tab]I am bored at work[tab]Hi JJ, I need some beer, fuck work, my boss is a twat.

and clicking send.

Seriously, ubuntu, firefox and thunderbird. He won't know will he, I mean, come on. You can setup their passwords etc. Go on, try it.

Don't for get the 'w1nd0wz l0ngh0r|\|' wallpaper for added authenticity. You might get a payrise. But, tell him you can't tell anyone, else SCO might ask for a license!

Oh hahaha! that should go in the joke thread. *wipes tear*
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