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Don’t be an accidental pirate

February 23, 2011 • Opinion

Renee Luus, Business Software Alliance (BSA) enforcement manager for SA (Image: File photo)

Most businesses don’t intend to use illegal software, or break the terms of their license agreements, but through a combination of bad planning, inadequate IT policies or simply a lack of awareness, many end up doing so.

Software piracy takes many forms, but whatever guise it takes, software piracy carries multiple business risks. If caught out, you might have to pay settlement and legal fees, and damage to your company reputation could be substantial. But you could also be exposing your business’ critical information and IT systems to viruses, potentially leading to data loss, file corruption and downtime.

Therefore, to avoid being an accidental software pirate, consider the following.

Mergers and acquisitions

If you are merging with another company, or acquiring one, your software licensing requirements are likely to change. This is a good opportunity to review all of your software assets, and reassess whether you have enough licenses to legally cover your needs. You might even find that you have too many, and can save your business some money.

Hiring more staff

It can be easy to overlook software licensing when you are hiring. Many businesses monitor the obvious assets such as company cars, mobile phones and laptops. However, software is often not captured or monitored in the same way. Make sure you use the tools available to keep track of all of your company investments.

Don’t forget your fonts

Despite being used daily by every organisation in the world, many still do not realise that fonts are classed as Intellectual Property and need licensing just like any other piece of software. Font piracy can easily take place as fonts can be transmitted from user to user either as stand alone software or embedded within electronic documents. It can happen accidentally and there are simple steps that can be taken to license or delete fonts without incurring a fine.

Version control

Have you bought the right version of software license for your needs? If you have an education edition, but are using it for commercial purposes, you are breaching the terms of the license. If in doubt, check the software publisher’s website for more information.

External suppliers

Even if you think that your software licensing is in order, it is worth making sure that your external suppliers take their responsibilities as seriously as you do. Only deal with reputable businesses with a good reputation.

Also don’t assume that whoever looks after your IT systems will take responsibility for your software licensing. As a business owner, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that your business is not acting illegally.

Buying online

Many software pirates set themselves up with very professional looking websites to fool customers into thinking they are buying genuine goods. It is important to do a few checks before placing any orders online, especially if this is with a company you have never heard of before.

If the price is too good to be true it often is. Also, do they provide any contact details in case of a problem? A tell tale sign of a questionable seller is someone who does not want to be contacted after they have made a sale. Always ensure that you are purchasing legal copies from reputable sources that are fully traceable.

Clearly counterfeit

Counterfeit software isn’t always the cheaper ‘too good to be true’ option. Some counterfeit software is of such high quality that it is very difficult to distinguish from the real thing, and may only be slightly cheaper. Many counterfeit versions come with a few hidden extras such as viruses and unwanted code, which often cause data loss.

Keep records

Keep a record of purchase for all of your software. This will make it much easier to run a software audit if you are required to, and means you can review what software assets you have and use on a regular basis. Remember, for some software publishers you need to keep the boxes as proof of license, so ensure that you have these locked away in a safe place.

Dangerous downloads

Having a policy or technical solution that prevents unauthorised software installations by your staff will help to avoid software piracy and make tracking your software much easier. You are responsible for the software that ends up on your computers, so have a clear company policy in place to mitigate any risks.

By Renee Luus, Business Software Alliance (BSA) enforcement manager for SA

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