To Catch A Thief

I once worked for a company that didn’t give a second thought to distributing illegal software throughout the organization. Management justified it as a cost-cutting measure, and besides, they reasoned, who was it hurting?

That was before education efforts from organizations such as the Canadian

Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) kicked into full gear. Surely, organizations today are savvy enough to know software piracy is a risk not worth taking — or are they?

Not according to CAAST, which says almost 40 per cent of all business software in Canada is illegal. That, according to the agency that has collected some stiff fines from offenders in recent years, represents a loss of more than $400 million to the Canadian economy.

In fact, Canada’s record of five-finger software discounts is a little surprising. Until a recent meeting with Diana Piquette, Microsoft’s director of licence compliance, I had no idea we weren’t keeping pace with most countries. In its June 2003 survey, CAAST and the BSA announced that Canada’s piracy rate declined over the last eight years to 39 per cent in 2002, below its all-time high of 46 per cent in 1994, but up one point from 2001. Meanwhile, the global software piracy rate declined 10 points — to 39 per cent from 49 per cent in 1994.

Some will argue the only injured parties in these scenarios are the big software vendors who can more than afford to “”donate”” a free copy here and there, with licensing fees so inflated. There’s no doubt major software vendors have the muscle to crack down on software theft, but they’re not the only ones who are affected.

Most of the software developers in this country are small companies that don’t have the resources of Microsoft or Oracle to go after pirates who illegally copy their intellectual property. In cases such as these, it’s more than likely those companies won’t sell enough legitimate copies of their product to stay in business. That means the software they have sold into the corporate world won’t be supported. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

Then there’s the little matter that software theft is a criminal offence. If the government chooses to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law, they could be fined up to $1 million and jailed five years. In the worse case scenario, they’d be slapped with both the fine and the jail term.

But how likely is that to happen? The U.S. government takes copyright infringement very seriously, and perhaps because of this has the lowest rate of software theft in the world at 23 per cent. But in Canada, where the impulse to litigate is not as developed, the potential for anyone serving time for stealing software is slim. That said, there’s a new Prime Minister moving in at 24 Sussex, and all that could change if the lobbyists can convince Paul Martin’s government of the importance of this issue.

As IT professionals, you are responsible to ensure compliance — that the number of people using the software is the same as the number of licences you’ve bought.

My former employer’s company folded a few years back. Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe companies that have no conscience about stealing software are guilty of other sloppy business practices.

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