Is The BSA Purposely Promoting Open Source Alternatives?

from the just-wondering dept

The BSA’s actions often seem so short-sighted that it makes you wonder if the organization is actually working against the interests of its membership on purpose. We’ve detailed in the past how the BSA loves to trot out bogus stats to support its claims about software piracy rates and the supposed “damage” it does to the economy — but a bigger issue is the practice of BSA software audits. A year and a half ago, the Associated Press exposed the BSA’s auditing practices as being highly questionable, bordering on what many would consider to be outright extortion. The organization targets lots of small companies and has no mercy. So even if it was a simple misunderstanding over what a hugely complex software license allowed, the BSA still demands money. And the most stunning part? The BSA keeps the money. According to the AP piece, the BSA (unlike some other organizations) does not distribute the money it gets from fining companies for software licensing violations.

But the bigger issue is that these practices, which are productivity killers for companies, and make many small businesses feel like their software vendors are treating them like criminals, are driving companies to look for alternatives from providers who won’t accuse them of infringement at the drop of a hat, and send in a bunch of auditors. Especially in the middle of an economic downturn, treating customers as if they’re criminals isn’t a very good strategy.

So, what is the BSA doing? Yes, that’s right, it’s pumping up its software audit program, sending 1,000 audit letters to companies in London, officially demanding they detail their software usage — while unofficially acting as a tremendous advertisement for open source software, where providers don’t treat their customers as if they were criminals.

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Comments on “Is The BSA Purposely Promoting Open Source Alternatives?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Most companies won’t risk their businesses on open source software, unless it is very tried and very true. There is great security in knowing that when you have a problem you can turn to the manufacture and actually get support.

Then again, companies who are not willing to pay for software aren’t really important in the scheme of things. If they are using pirated software to operate their businesses, then I suspect security and such isn’t a big concern either.

eclecticdave (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> There is great security in knowing that when you have a problem you can turn to the manufacture and actually get support

Yes, there is. Which is why a major part of the open source business model relies on selling support contracts.

What’s more the cool thing about open source is you don’t have to rely on the manufacturer to provide a good support service, you can go to any one of a bunch of large companies or any number of smaller consultancy companies. This gives you a much better chance of getting the level of support your business needs, rather than be stuck with the sometimes abysmal excuse for support a manufacturer provides.

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: Re:

you understand nothing.

Lots of companies are willing to risk their business on open source. Some are locked from incompatibility issues/have slow development cycles/other investment costs/other investment priorities but there is no business fear of open source in this day and age. It is well recognized and utilized as mature, and has far greater penetration than is documented because people appropriately lock down systems. That is a false perpetrated myth from about 5 years ago.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Most companies won’t risk their businesses on open source software, unless it is very tried and very true. There is great security in knowing that when you have a problem you can turn to the manufacture and actually get support.”

Three points:

1. There is an increasing amount of open source software that’s tried and true, ranging from backend server software like Apache and MySQL to desktop and productivity software. The biggest problems for many companies tend to be vendor lock-in and managers who don’t understand something without a $ sign attached rather than concerns about the actual software.

2. Most larger open-source vendors actually build their businesses on selling support packages for the software. Whatever pro-MS people try to tell you, it’s been a long time since randomly asking questions of newsgroups was the only way to get support. Besides, if you’re saving money on the software, maybe you can employ some competent support staff of your own…

3. Therefore, your second paragraph is pretty invalid. If a company is willing to pay for a support package, but simply decide on a solution that doesn’t charge for the actual code (and thus with the added advantage of not being subject to the problems mentioned in the article), then that means nothing other than the proprietary model may be getting too risky or unjustifiably expensive.

“If they are using pirated software to operate their businesses, then I suspect security and such isn’t a big concern either.”

There’s a big difference between pirated software (e.g. torrented programs or warez) and “pirated” software (software where no licence has been purchased or the licence has expired, but it was installed from a legitimate disk). I suspect that a lot of the numbers touted by the BSA fall into the latter category.

Besides, purchasing software is no guarantee of good security, as most long-term PC users only know too well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

here is a little news for you: Apache has about as many problems (if not more) than your average microslop product. There are things in Apache that haven’t worked for years. Apache is popular because in a very basic situations, it is stable and easy to set up. Many web companies use it (including my own), if only because the other alternatives aren’t any better (or are worse).

Open source is a big world – for every “supported” open source program (can you say razor / razor blades?), there are hundreds of pieces of code out there supported by nobody. Worse, some is supported by a “community” of people more interested in the power of control than actually moving the product forward.

“There’s a big difference between pirated software (e.g. torrented programs or warez) and “pirated” software (software where no licence has been purchased or the licence has expired, but it was installed from a legitimate disk).”

Actually, there is none. In both cases, you are infringing on copyright. In the former case, you also stolen the original content of the install disk, and in the latter, you just failed to pay the license. It is the difference between driving a car without a license plate or with an expired license plate, nothing more of less.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For every proprietary closed source software that does have support, there are hundreds of applications and systems that aren’t supported by anyone (anymore).

Indeed a lot of open source software is supported through a community. But a lot of enterprise level software does have professional support as well (as that’s their main source of income)

btw, downloading something isn’t stealing something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can somewhat agree with this. When we were doing market research prior to implementing a system, executive management chose the commercial product against our open source recommendation, wanting the backing of the Fortune 100 vendor. We eventually got screwed by the licensing terms, wasted six months of development time (eight person team), and started over from scratch w/ the open source product. We purchased indemnification/support from the main company behind the project and have since implemented.

G.C. Hutson with Sadien, Inc. (profile) says:

Re: Coward's comment

I’m not sure why you called yourself “Anonymous Coward.” That was a very nicely worded post.

You nailed it on the head. It’s all about risk. And open-source software, although “free,” is not license-free. And it certainly isn’t “risk free.” It is still bound by the exact same constraints of copyright law, as any other piece of software.

Case-in-point… after years of the FSF “asking” Cisco nicely to adhere to the GPL with no result, it only took Cisco 4 months to fold to the FSF’s lawsuit for copyright violations.

We have a 2 minute video about “Freeware” and the associated risks at (scroll to middle of the list).

Great topic guys… and again Coward, great comment.

G.C. Hutson
Chief Executive and Partner
Sadien, Inc.

Luci says:

Re: Re: Coward's comment

You, sir, are a confirmed shill and troll. This isn’t about copyright, this is about the BSA coming in and making up violations to extort cash. Open Source does not have this problem. Certainly it isn’t a perfect solution, but when you only pay for support, I’d say it’s a damned sight better than than what the big companies are getting for their crapware. Next time, understand what the article is about instead of towing that party line.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Coward's comment

I think the only person having a problem with understanding is you. You sound angry, misinformed, and generally going off without reason.

BSA cannot create violations where none exist. They can’t randomly walk up to an unplugged computer and say “it once did a spreadsheet, so you owe microsoft money”.

I would suggest you do yourself a favor and get your information from an impartial second source. It would seem that the sugary candy news Mike is shoveling at you is overwhelming you.

Anonymous Coward says:

By what right

By what right do they have to come in to your place of business, access your private and confidential systems, and levy fines against you? They are not the police. They have no authority, they are just a protectionist racket masquerading as a representative of their “clients” interests. AND they dont even return ANY of this collected fines to the people they supposedly represent! I tell you, if they ever showed up at my place of business and started making threats, they would be looking at the business end of a shotgun unless they have a court order.

Rob says:

This is why I for one stopped doing business with these rackets, use Linux, OpenOffice, GIMP, etc instead. You will find that quite often, the open source alternatives are actually more stable and work better/faster than the closed source alternatives. Sure, there is a learning curve. Sure, some things are going to be different. I fail to see how these pitfalls are not worth it. I get everything I need, legally and for free, am free to do what I want with the code, get better stability, never have to worry about viruses, never have to worry about system performance degradation (fragmentation, registry clutter), never sign an EULA, and NEVER have to worry about something like this. How is that peace of mind not worth the hassle?

Rob (profile) says:

@Anonymous — “Most companies won’t risk their businesses on open source software, unless it is very tried and very true. There is great security in knowing that when you have a problem you can turn to the manufacture and actually get support.”

— This is assuming that you actually will get the support that you paid for, I can’t tell you how many times I have called tech support for a product I legally bought, only to end up sitting on hold for an hour, talking to some dude in India who barely speaks English, to get the run around and have him tell me that its a problem with Windows, or my hardware, and that they can’t help me. If you were 100% guaranteed that when you had a problem, they would fix it or you would get your money back, then I could consider that a good reason, but more often than not, IT guys such as myself end up taking care of these issues themselves anyway.

Freedom says:

BSA = IT Thugs/Mafia...

Most abuse in some business is just a matter of convenience. I’ve got 10 PCs and I want to ensure that everyone can run AutoCAD, but only 3 people really ever use it. In this case, the owner goes out and usually buys 3 copies but gets nailed for 10 if audited.

Since the software doesn’t enforce the issue, they think no big deal. Then the BSA comes along and makes it a big deal.

If the licenses were enforced as written then you’d see the consumer start to push back and look for alternatives. Interestingly, take a look at Microsoft – they are in a delicate balancing game of activation/license enforcement and keeping the pirate market open enough to ensure they are the standard.

This passive aggressive BS were the software doesn’t enforce the license and then the BSA comes along to make sure you pay is a bunch of BS. Make your license simple, enforce it if you care and are a member of the BSA and let the market decide. But please stop hiding behind the BSA as you don’t have anything to do with them….


Anonymous Coward says:

Is The BSA Purposely Promoting Open Source Alternatives?

This is great news!

We need more Open Source Proponents.

As for the Cisco point brought up please feel free to share the whole story.

Perhaps discuss how the Free Open Source Alternative was perhaps better than Cisco’s own in-house code, leading to Cisco’s adoption for a commercial application (as in charging money for software which *WAS* Free). This was perhaps in violation of the license agreement Cisco agreed to, right?

Thanks for telling the story. Oh wait, that was me.

Peter Beruk (profile) says:

Is The BSA Purposely Promoting Open Source Alternatives?

Mike, we know the question in your headline is facetious, but honestly, the answer is no. BSA’s mission is to promote IT innovation and solutions, not any one type of software. BSA members provide all kinds of solutions based on proprietary, open source, and mixed source business models. The competition between different types of software will play out in the marketplace, as it should.

However, our members’ greatest competitor is illegal theft and usage of their products. Use of improperly licensed software is not only against the law; it also spreads security risks, undermines software vendors and service firms, gives users an unfair advantage in competition, and reduces government tax revenues at a time of intense fiscal pressures.

That’s why BSA and its members invest millions of dollars a year in informing businesses of all sizes about the many risks of unlicensed software, as well as the benefits of software asset management (SAM). For example, see

Peter Beruk (profile) says:

Is The BSA Purposely Promoting Open Source Alternatives?

To continue from above: The letters we send to companies requesting information on their software usage are aimed at raising awareness and encouraging compliance.

Because education by itself is insufficient to stop copyright infringement, BSA also investigates reports of software piracy from concerned individuals. When the allegations appear valid, we reach out to companies involved and ask them to cooperate with us. When necessary and appropriate, we file civil lawsuits to stop piracy; and we refer particularly egregious cases to law enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution.

Open source versus proprietary is a false choice. “Mixed source” is becoming the norm, and all kinds of software are copyrighted – which is to everyone’s benefit. Anyone who is concerned about the potential risks of software piracy occurring in their own companies can report it confidentially by visiting or calling 888-NO-PIRACY.

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