Since it would appear that even the most reputable of companies cannot be relied on to pay all the software licence fees that are due, the major software vendors have sponsored an independent company to look after their interests.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) was founded in 1988 with offices in the USA, Europe and Asia. BSA has 21 worldwide members and a similar number of local members in each area. They claim to be active in 65 countries. It is a common misconception that BSA are only interested in Microsoft software, their scope is much broader, rightly so. IBM, PeopleSoft, Intuit, Adobe and H-P for instance represent a very wide range of interests!In practice Microsoft is the primary focus simply because there is more of their software in existence.
BSA's stated mission is towards providing a safe and legal digital world. They are feared by most IT departments, who dread a visit afraid that some illegality will be exposed. In such a case the best that could be hoped for is a demand for a payment to settle for any unpaid licences plus costs! At worst however BSA have on occasions made an example of an errant company by disclosing details in public, which does not make the IT department very popular with the board of directors.
However BSA does not like this reputation as being the big bully. After all they are doing nothing wrong, they are only checking that their members gat their dues. They claim that their role is wider than enforcement of intellectual property rights. They also focus on contributing to and promoting public policies, and on education. It is always useful that such an organisation contributes to public policies, cooperating with other like-minded bodies, but education is proving a lot more difficult.
Despite some high profile exposures it is estimated that about a quarter of software in use in Europe is illegal; I dread to think what the ratio is in Asia. There are some ludicrous predictions based on these figures such as "a 10 to 15% reduction in piracy would generate an additional �10 billion to the UK economy and �2.5 billion in tax revenues". These I take with a pinch of salt since if everyone paid their dues, then the extra revenue shouldn't go to the software vendors but back to the already overcharged users in reduced licence fees. Nevertheless these staggering figures are food for thought and show that BSA has got a long way to go yet.
Education, admittedly the most difficult task, is currently the most important. It is essential that all organisations have appropriate policies in place - and enforce them. Investment in asset management software is essential, but it will only help; it is not a solution. The maturity of in-house policies for software control varies considerably in practice and many companies, large and small, need help in developing them. This BSA is attempting to do, but given their perceived role of enforcement it is probably the wrong move.
There is a need to separate the roles of evaluation, accreditation and policing; the accountant should not be the auditor! A recommended route then is as follows: conduct a preliminary evaluation, establish a policy from the evaluation results, rectify the detected problems, get an audited accreditation, keep it up-to-date!
All the above need outside help; BSA's role should lie in providing the whip to crack. They may not like their public image, but enforcement is what they are about and what we need.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.