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, writes Renee Luus, Business Software Alliance (BSA) enforcement manager for SA.
Software piracy takes many forms, but whatever guise it takes, software piracy carries multiple business risks. If caught out, companies may have to pay settlement and legal fees, and the damage to a company's reputation could be substantial.
But this could also be exposing the 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 merging with another company, or acquiring one, the software licensing requirements are likely to change. This is a good opportunity to review all of the software assets, and reassess whether there are enough licenses to legally cover the company's needs.
Businesses might even find that they have too many, and can save their business some money. They should consider investing in a Software Asset Management review to ensure that all the licenses are compliant.
Hiring more staff
It can be easy to overlook software licensing when 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 to use the tools available to keep track of all of the company's investments.
Don’t forget the 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.
Has the company bought the right version of the software license for their needs? If they have an education edition, but are using it for commercial purposes, they are breaching the terms of the license. If in doubt, check the software publisher’s website for more information.
Even if users think that theirr software licensing is in order, it is worth making sure that their external suppliers take their responsibilities as seriously as they do. Only deal with reputable businesses with a good reputation.
Also don’t assume that whoever looks after the IT systems will take responsibility for the software licensing. A business owner is ultimately responsible for making sure that the business is not acting illegally.
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 users 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 be sure to purchase legal copies from reputable sources that are fully traceable.
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 a record of purchase for all software. This will make it much easier to run a software audit if required to, and it means that the company can review what software assets they have and use on a regular basis.
Remember, for some software publishers companies need to keep the boxes as proof of license, so ensure that these are locked away in a safe place.
Having a policy or technical solution that prevents unauthorised software installations by staff will help to avoid software piracy and make tracking software much easier. The company is responsible for the software that ends up on its computers, so have a clear company policy in place to mitigate any risks.