Almost One in Four Businesses Pirate Software

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Are software pirates those who bootleg Microsoft CDs for personal gain? In the U.S., the culprits are more likely to be local businesses than a solo artist with a CD burner, a new study suggests.

"The common perception is that people sell software at flea markets," says Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement with the Business Software Alliance. "But the reality is that it's a problem that is worse in the workplace."

The study, released earlier this week by the BSA, confirms that almost one in four businesses (23 percent) runs software without licenses in the workplace. Yet, paradoxically, 89 percent of the 1500 professionals polled agree that illegal software is "a risk no business can afford to take."

The alliance, which represents digital safety issues for 24 companies, including Microsoft, Adobe, and Cisco Systems, also announced that it reaped more than $2 million in settlements with 25 companies for software copyright violations.

"It shows us that there's work to be done in continuing to raise awareness" of software copyright law, Kruger says.

Why Do they Do it?

Industry representatives say there are multiple reasons a company might use unlicensed software, despite knowing the risks.

"Somebody could be doing it for flat-out financial benefits," says Mike Gildea, executive directory of the Technology Council of Northwest Pennsylvania. Gildea notes that other infractions could be as simple as two employees sharing a disc without registering for a second license.

Andy Oram, an editor with O'Reilly Network, a technology Web site, says the software copyright laws are still in their infancy and may not always meet the demands of the workplace.

Oram cites telecommuters who install business software on their home computers as an example in which copyright law conflicts with business needs. Also, he notes, revamping a computer's operating system may cause a conflict with software licenses--even though the software has only been installed on one computer.

"The law is not really in tune with what people need to do," Oram says.

Implications in the Industry

According to Oram, the implications of software licenses may lead to more companies relying on Linux, an open-source operating system.

Oram pointed to the city of Munich, Germany's decision to drop Windows in favor of Linux in 2003 as an example of how organizations may be moving towards open-source products.

"It's a very important trend...It has really democratized computers," says Kevin Sullivan, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia, of open-source software.

However, Oram stopped short of saying that such software would eliminate the necessity of commercial-software companies. "I can see a lot of areas where people want something very specific," he says.

Safeguards Help

The study also shows that employees at companies that have policies on software licensing are more likely to follow the law.

Those employees are less likely to condone sharing software at work or propose piracy as a means of saving money, the study reports. They also are more likely to report software piracy at work.

Sixty percent of those polled say they have software policies in place at work.

To create awareness of unlicensed software in the workplace, BSA offers free audit tools for businesses. The software can be downloaded from its Web site.

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