Network World Highlights BSA's Dirty Extortion Tricks

from the how-is-this-legal dept

We've highlighted how the BSA uses completely bogus stats to push its agenda, but an even bigger issue is how the company uses incredibly underhanded tactics to effectively extort companies into paying massive sums, even if they've legally purchased their software. A few years ago, the Associated Press started calling out some of the BSA's nastier tricks, but it's not like it made a difference. Stories of such tactics continue to pop up. Over at Network World, James Gaskin has devoted an entire column to highlighting underhanded tricks by the BSA, which it uses to bully small companies into paying thousands of dollars:
I'm concerned about how the BSA bullies small companies that lose paperwork, or are victimized by angry employees who destroy the single piece of evidence the BSA considers acceptable. What evidence is that? Want to guess? If you guess wrong, you pay a fine.

Is the original software packaging enough? Pay a fine. The Certificate of Authenticity on the computer? Pay a fine. The original disks holding the software? Pay a fine.
He also highlights how badly the deck is stacked against small companies, and how there are almost no legal rulings on these sorts of things, because the BSA and its biggest members (such as Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk) know that it's cheaper for companies to settle rather than fight in court. As you read through the article, it just gets more and more ridiculous. Here's just a sampling:
Adobe, another BSA founding member, has started a program to audit companies for font abuse. Yes, fonts. Each font includes a copyright and you need a license. If someone sends you a Word document with a licensed font, and that font gets used by anyone in your company, it becomes a federal case. Literally.

One of the BSA tricks Scott really hates is its unbundling tactic. Say you have a copy of Microsoft Office you can't prove is yours. Perhaps the shipping clerk stole the invoice as he left your company to call the BSA and get a reward (it happens all the time). The BSA comes, and charges you not for one piece of software, Office, but individually for each application within Office, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Each one brings a fine for illegal use.
As Glaskin notes, none of this makes using unauthorized software right (especially these days, when there are so many legitimate alternatives), but the BSA's tactics are much worse. It's difficult to see how these sorts of things are allowed -- but as we've seen, various industry associations seem to get pretty much free reign in bullying whomever they want.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 6:39am

    Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

    Please define your initials at least once. BSA could stand for lots of things beyond the Business Software Alliance.

     

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      Aaron Bylund, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 6:50am

      Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

      Agreed, I thought this was talking about the Boy Scouts until I got through the 3rd or 4th paragraph.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:04am

      Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

      You have to use your brain. Context is your friend. The very first sentence tells you that it's a software organisation using bogus stats to extort money and to further their agenda.

      Why would the other BSA be involved in software? Which stats would they use to further an agenda? Which agenda? The actual subject should have been blindingly obvious.

      Apparently we've found the person who was wondering why the World Wildlife Fund was involved in wrestling before the WWE name was forced...

       

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        John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

        >Apparently we've found the person who was wondering why the World Wildlife Fund was involved in
        >wrestling before the WWE name was forced...

        Nah, I was going for the best joke.

        The list of Organizations that BSA stands for numbers about 20 according to answers.com. The British Science Association or the Broadcast Standards Association or the Bosnian Serb Army.... Just are not as absurd as the boy scouts but they do have their litigious side that makes things this side of plausible.

        Besides I thought the wrong WWF got to keep the name. Panda wrestling is coming soon.

         

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        Gordon, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:14am

        Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

        You have to use your brain. Context is your friend. The very first sentence tells you that it's a software organisation using bogus stats to extort money and to further their agenda.

        Why would the other BSA be involved in software? Which stats would they use to further an agenda? Which agenda? The actual subject should have been blindingly obvious.

        Apparently we've found the person who was wondering why the World Wildlife Fund was involved in wrestling before the WWE name was forced...
        ---------------------------------------------------------

        No, it's just called good reporting. Retard.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

        To PaulT:

        as John Duncan Yoyo stated:
        "Please define your initials at least once. BSA could stand for lots of things beyond the Business Software Alliance."

        Your comment, "Context is your friend," hazards a different interpretation for each reader. Defining the initials makes it clear for all. It's odd you argue against such common sense.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:06am

          Re: Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

          It's odd you argue against such common sense.

          Nah, that's just what fan boys do.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:33am

          Re: Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

          Umm, "common sense" says that, when you encounter an acronym you don't know the meaning of you...

          1) Use Google.
          2) Click one of the links IN THE STORY which defines the acronym.
          3) Use Google.
          4) Ask someone.
          5) Use Google.

           

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            John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 3:31pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

            If your reader needs to google an acronym in a piece written as news/persuasion it is ineffectual writing. You don't want to lose your audience because you failed to define terms. They may not ever come back to the piece.

             

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      chris (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:30am

      Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

      Please define your initials at least once. BSA could stand for lots of things beyond the Business Software Alliance.

      mike is talking about the boy scouts. that's how they strong arm you into buying their cookies. if you don't buy a bunch when they show up at your door, then they report you to the Business Software Alliance who will make your life a living hell.

       

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        minijedimaster (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:45am

        Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

        Actually it's the Girl Scouts that sell the cookies. They Boy Scouts just show up afterward and ask if you have a license for those boxes of cookies.

         

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          minijedimaster (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

          Oh and I forgot, if you don't have the ability to prove ownership of those boxes of cookies with the proper license then you have to pay a fine for each individual cookie in every box.

           

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            John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:01am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

            The Boy Scouts are selling Popcorn as they have done for years. I never realized they regularly sold popcorn until last year.

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 5:12pm

      Re: Why are the Boy Scouts of America doing this?

      Your a idoit

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    I would say that companies would be wise to treat their software licenses and documents in the same manner that they treat any document that shows ownership - safe deposit box, at the lawyers office, or whatever combination they like.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:30am

      Re:

      Or, do what I've done -- get rid of al software that the BSA represents. There are plenty enough free (as in speech) alternatives of equal quality to make this completely doable.

       

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        Rich Kulawiec, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re:

        Absolutely correct. It continues to amaze me, as it has for the past several decades, that people keep purchasing incredibly-overpriced and under-supported commercial software and then dealing with "audits" and all this other nonsense when they could (with very few exceptions) bypass the entire mess.

        Incidentally, I've received my share of threatening/extortion letters from the BSA even though I've used nothing but open-source/free software for a very long time. I finally had the Post Office block them.

         

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    bikey, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:20am

    bsa

    Thanks PaulT, Beyond that, ever wonder why BSA (a largely US-based group) is the main lobbying power behind the European data retention directive? See research by German working group on data retention as mentioned on Statewatch's website Oct. 29, 2008, among other places. Insidiousness is alive and well.

     

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    Enricosuarve, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:46am

    Easier just to kick them out

    In previous encouters with the BSA and Adobe my company have had major problems with their practices which include

    Changing their minds 5 times during an investigation as to what constituted proof of license
    Failure of Adobe to keep details of transactions
    General inability to be able to state what licenses are required for which product
    Their falsly claiming that certain installed software was a module of their software requiring licensing
    Requiring proof of license for software over a decade old
    Insisting installation copies on servers require another license for just being there
    A general inability to allow for bundled software

    My advice to anyone engaged with the BSA or one of its sycophants would be to welcome them in on day one, kindly inform them that you are innocent until proven guilty and escort them off site immediatly. Then get rid of as much of their software as possible replacing it with open source or non-BSA stuff

    Its way easier and less expensive than their ridiculous 'deals' and select agreements

     

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    Scared, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:47am

    I can attest its all true

    I've been through two Audits, the first one got me my CSM/ASM (Certified Software Manager, Advanced Software Manager) Certificates as part of the settlement.

    In that first audit we ended up paying fines for over 75 copies of Roxio, why? Because Dell didn't list it on the invoice for the PC. Despite the fact that it came pre-loaded, by Dell, we had to pay for this software 3 times over.

    The first thing I tell any company looking into compliance is "The only thing that matters is proof of purchase, not the box, not the CD, not the key, if you don't have proof of purchase you've got nothing"

    Finishing up a compliance project now at my 3rd company, no audit this time though. This is all preparation just in case.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    B...but, M-Mike...how COULD you?

    How could you write a story maligning Microsoft? Angry Dude and his ilk have been telling us that they pay your bills, and now you're biting the hand that feeds you? How could you go against your master, Billiam Gates this way? Did their check bounce?

     

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    Captain Obvious, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 8:28am

    Just plant those explosives at BSA headquarters and enjoy the fireworks, Lobo. ^_^

     

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    Andrew (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 8:39am

    Unbundling

    How can they possibly justify unbundling? The MS Office licence specifically states that you aren't allowed to split its components between different machines - it's licensed as a whole, not as individual products. I imagine the same is true for other BSA members' software.

    Does this mean legally licensed software can't be unbundled, but illegal / 'illegal' software can be?


    2. INSTALLATION AND USE RIGHTS. Before you use the software under a license, you must assign that license to one device. That device is the “licensed device.” A hardware partition or blade is considered to be a separate device.
    a. Licensed Device. You may install and use one copy of the software on the licensed device.
    b. Portable Device. You may install another copy on a portable device for use by the single primary user of the licensed device.
    c. Separation of Components. The components of the software are licensed as a single unit. You may not separate the components and install them on different devices.

     

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      Mechwarrior, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:09am

      Re: Unbundling

      BSA expects small businesses not to have enough people to notice that the MS Office agreement forbids unbundling. Of course, BSA could turn around and say that since unbundling is against the end user agreement, and since they are charging them per ubundled software, it proves that the small business also broke Microsofts user agreement...

       

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    vyvyan, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    I would like relay the sentiments of "John Duncan Yoyo", first comment on this article. For many it might be trivial, but not always. There are readers of this blog who don't live in US and who don't belong to business class being harassed by BSA every once in a while.

    What happened to good old practice of using full name in the first use and abbreviating thereafter.

    Or Mesnick thinks, we are all bunch of emo kids for whom it really doesn't matter if they correlate to the right reference.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:33am

      Re:

      "What happened to good old practice of using full name in the first use and abbreviating thereafter."

      OMG! WTF are you talking about? BTW, if you had RTFA you would have all the context you need, w/o it u r SOL....

      "Or Mesnick thinks, we are all bunch of emo kids for whom it really doesn't matter if they correlate to the right reference."

      Well, I actually agree with you there, but the reason for this is probably because Mesnick, as the runner up to the Bachelorette is still feeling a little emo himself from the loss...

      By the way, what did you mean by "emo"? What is that, some kind of hip acronym for something? Since you didn't fully flesh out its first usage, I can only assume you are referring to the Emergency Measure Organization.

      I have to ask why you think that runner up to the Bachelorette thinks we all work for the Canadian version of FEMA....

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 9:38am

    Is the BSA even a government entity with the rights to do an investigation ?

    When they show up, do they come with officers of the law with a search warrant?

    If not, can't you just tell them to go?

     

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      minijedimaster (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      Q. What authority does the Business Software Alliance have to conduct audits and levy fines?
      A. The BSA has no independent law enforcement authority of any kind. Its rights are derived from a power of attorney provided by its member software companies. Those companies have rights created by their software license agreements and under the laws protecting copyrights.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 11:47am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, but companies don't have the right to search my company.
        And to get law enforcement evolved wouldn't that require a bit more evidence then an Ex-Employee saying "They're using pirated software" ?

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 3:29pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "wouldn't that require a bit more evidence then an Ex-Employee saying "They're using pirated software" ?"

          You'd think so, but no, it doesn't. All it really takes is the BSA swearing to a jusge that honest, with a cherry on top, we know they're a bunch of dirty pirates. Often, such as where I worked that actually got raided, there is no truth to the allegation.

           

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 16th, 2009 @ 3:27pm

      Re:

      "When they show up, do they come with officers of the law with a search warrant?"

      Yes, they very often do. First, though, they'll just write very intimidating letters. Most business cave right there because if they show up with sheriffs, then you're not going to be able to use any of your computers for a few days, so you're temporarily out of business. That's rather expensive.

       

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    NullOp, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 10:04am

    BSA

    Its robbery, its greed, what more do you want for an explanation. Perhaps companies need to band together and start a class-action against BSA. As it is obvious they are picking on small companies for the money.

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Oct 16th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    Be Free

    EULA for proprietary software => they have all the rights, you have no rights.

    Licence agreement for Free/Libre Software => you have the same rights as everybody else, including the creators of the software.

    Oh, and Free Software can be just as much commercial as proprietary software. Many companies are running thriving businesses on Free Software. Free Software is about the only part of the software industry still growing in profitability in the downturn.

     

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    headkase, Oct 19th, 2009 @ 5:20am

    Sue me.

    If I was ever unfairly targeted by this kind of tactic I'd go to a lawyer and say this: "Sue them for whatever the hell you can think of for $30 million dollars and if you win you keep 90% and if not I owe you nothing."

     

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    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 2nd, 2009 @ 1:05pm

    Identifying Licensed Software

    Quoting from the Windows licence:

    Section 14: Proof of License: If you acquired the software on a device, or on a disc or other media, a genuine Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity label with a genuine copy of the software identifies licensed software. To be valid, this label must be affixed to the device or appear on the manufacturer’s or installer’s packaging. If you receive the label separately, it is invalid. You should keep label on the device or the packaging that has the label on it to prove that you are licensed to use the software.

    So if the BSA refuse to accept the CoA as proof of a valid Windows licence, then they’re violating the terms of Microsoft’s EULA, aren’t they?

     

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