Software piracy is against the law, and it's morally wrong too. If you're a BCS member then you should make sure that you are beyond reproach in your software license asset management. In short, I'm on board with the stated objective of the Business Software Alliance (BSA) by default. That said, I suffered a serious allergic reaction after a hype overdose on Wednesday night at a small reception for the BSA at the Palace of Westminster.
I have two issues. The first is that BSA figures on impact of piracy on the economy seem a tad overblown. The second is that they were presenting on the evils of organised counterfeiting, but I suspect they are really interested in legal action against small businesses with disorganised software asset management. These ambiguities are critical if you are looking to enlist the support of legislators, which is what the BSA was aiming to do with this meeting.
A big part of the BSA presentation was the many billions, and 13,000 jobs, that the UK economy is loosing to software piracy. This is based on a study conducted with IDC; IDC being a reputable research organisation have also published the methodology. Broadly speaking, they take the total hardware units shipped and times that by an estimated average software load. That gives them the total software deployed. They also know the total sales of licensed software. Take one from the other, and you have the total amount of pirated software, according to them. There is a paragraph on how they account for open source software, freeware and shareware, but I'm blowed if I can work out what it means. Is it me, or is that methodology... well... something...? To quote The Economist on the subject (sorry, link is subscription only):
"The association's figures rely on sample data that may not be representative, assumptions about the average amount of software on PCs and, for some countries, guesses rather than hard data. Moreover, the figures are presented in an exaggerated way by the BSA and International Data Corporation (IDC), a research firm that conducts the study."
My other issue was that most of the meeting focused on the impact of large scale counterfeiting operations - packaging and selling software in an organised way; a criminal enterprise. A gentleman from Trading Standards gave a good presentation on the impact of counterfeiters and the work Trading Standards are doing in response. Clearly they need more support in what they are doing, and any law abiding citizen (and any MP) would no doubt agree.
Not much to do with shoddy asset management though...
Of course, dodgy software is probably loaded to the gunwales with trojans and viruses, and all your data will fly into the wide blue yonder if you use it. Moreover, if you use it at home then you will doubtless lose all your treasured family photos. Think of the children.
Again, not much to do with what seems to be BSA's primary activity. That seems to revolve around organisations using more copies of software than they are licensed for, either deliberately, or accidentally. This article suggests 80% of their settlement cases are due to negligence. Action most usually starts when BSA is tipped off by disgruntled staff (who can get a substantial reward) as I understand it. The BSA then hove into view with a team of lawyers, threatening small and medium sized businesses with court action if they can't produce licence documentation for everything they are using. A proportionate action, of course, that will no doubt benefit the UK economy.
The BSA are asking legislators for a number of things, but the one that caught my eye was stronger intellectual property damages law to act as a deterrent. Their presentation to the MPs gave some startlingly high (and worryingly derived) figures for loss to the economy, and focused on criminal gangs and counterfeiting. If indeed their aim is to take legal action for their own financial gain against companies that may well be trying to obey the law, it is disingenuous to say the least to make a misleading 'public interest' argument.
Again let me reiterate that I'm not in favour of software piracy (the Federation Against Software Theft was set up by the BCS, and takes a very different approach), or bashing intellectual property holders for exercising their legal rights. I'm just interested in making sure that MPs are not presented with misleading information. Their job is hard enough as it is.
Am I being unnecessarily pedantic? What is the BCS's responsibility in these circumstances? Looking forward to hearing what you think!