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.