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BSA Targets Law Firm Software Pirates

July 2, 2007 (LexisNexis) -- The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is a trade group whose members include the likes of Microsoft, Adobe and Computer Associates. The BSA's job is to protect the property and financial interest of members by identifying and recovering damages from organizations using the unlicensed property (software) of their members. And they are aggressive—encouraging disgruntled employees to blow the whistle. Virtually any business, including law firms, is at risk. Even with good intentions, you are likely to have software installed and in use on your computer equipment for which you do not have a license or do not have the BSA’s level of required proof of purchase.

The BSA’s definition of piracy leaves no room for gray—it is a black or white issue. They define piracy as “The illegal use and/or distribution of software protected under intellectual property laws.”

The law firm Scott & Scott specializes in defending companies against the BSA. They explain how the BSA works this way:

“The Business Software Alliance maintains telephone hotlines and a web site to encourage disgruntled employees and vendors to make anonymous reports against companies of all sizes.”

“The Business Software Alliance investigates all reports of software piracy without confirming the veracity of the information provided or the motive of the person making the complaint.”

“Once a report is received, the Business Software Alliance makes a decision about whether to request a self-audit or to immediately file suit. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the Business Software Alliance pursues the self-audit approach. Acting either through an internal enforcement attorney or an outside law firm, the BSA will send a letter to the target company requesting a self-audit.”

According to Scott & Scott, ignoring a BSA demand doesn’t work. If you or one of your clients receive one of the BSA letters, you need to seek the advice of an attorney experienced in BSA defense.

Don’t expect your midrange law firm to be below the BSA’s radar screen. Law firms are heavy software users relative to their size. The independence afforded to the firm’s lawyers leaves a lot of room for pirated software, as defined by the BSA, to find its way onto law firm computers.

If Scott & Scott had their way, we would have a new definition of pirated software:

“Software piracy is the distribution of counterfeit software and/or use or distribution of authentic software constituting the intentional violation of intellectual property laws.”

Unfortunately that is not the way BSA sees it. Under their definition, your firm and your clients are BSA targets. Take prudent steps to avoid having unlicensed software creep into your computer systems and workstations. Make sure that your accounting and IT people have devised a method for retaining proofs of purchase for all software licenses. Finally, unless you have BSA defense experience within your own firm, you might want to remember the name Scott & Scott.