Tech & Work

Turning in the thieves

Pirating software and certification training materials is stealing, plain and simple. If you see it, report it. Here's how.


You show up for the second day of your network consulting gig, and the first thing on your to-do list is "install software." Someone hands you an illegal copy of software that retails for over $2,500 per license, and you're told to install that software on a dozen machines. What do you do?

Recently, a friend of mine, an IT consultant, found himself in that position. There's really only one thing you as a self-respecting IT professional can do if you find yourself in a similar situation. (And if you're a self-respecting certified IT professional, you have even more to lose.)

Say no and turn 'em in
My friend was excited about this consulting gig because the company, an engineering firm, was looking for a full-time IT manager. He thought if things went well, he might apply for the job.

But when "they" asked him to install illegal copies of expensive software, he was shocked. He asked and was told plainly, "that's the way we've always done it." When he declined to install the software, the company informed him that they no longer required his consulting services. "That's why they can't keep an IT manager," he told me. "They're putting this software on machines they sell to their clients, and they only have one license!"

"Don't they have any full-time IT people on staff to warn them about what can happen if they get caught?" I asked.

"They have two MCSEs who just got out of school, and they do what they're told."

"Then you should report the company and the MCSEs," I said. He said he would, but he wanted to wait a while, so that it wouldn't be obvious that he was the one who called the software cops.

Certifiably honest
Every IT person who earns a certification (whether from Microsoft or any other vendor) is well acquainted with the consequences of software piracy: You lose your certification.

In the legal agreement MCPs sign, Microsoft spells it out in Section 8: Termination: "Microsoft may terminate this Agreement immediately, including termination of any Certifications and MCP Designations to which this Agreement relates, and termination of your use of the corresponding MCP Logo(s), upon the occurrence of any one of the following events (the "Defaults"):... (iii) you engage in misappropriation or unauthorized disclosure of any trade secret or confidential information of Microsoft (including, but not limited to, any MCP Exam materials or other Microsoft materials with respect to which you are under non-disclosure obligation), or pirate any Microsoft product, or otherwise infringe any other intellectual property right of Microsoft, or engage in any other activities prohibited by law."

How to report piracy
I spoke with Peter Beruk, vice president of the Anti-Piracy department of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). I asked what he thought of the situation my consultant friend faced. Mr. Beruk's first comment was that "if a VP [vice president] directed employees to make illegal copies and deliver them to client locations, that's more important than knowing that an IT person was doing the pirating without the knowledge of upper management.

"We can go after anybody in an organization that we want to, but usually it's the organization itself," Mr. Beruk said. I asked what he thought about certified IT pros who pirate. "If a Certified Software Manager willfully and blatantly violated the rights of our 1,000 member companies, certainly the first thing I would think of is revoking that certification.”

Mr. Beruk's advice to businesses for fighting piracy is "put a policy in place." He recommends making sure that everyone in the company—not just the IT people—knows that piracy won't be tolerated. Here are some resources for reporting piracy:
  • Contact the SIIA. Call the SIIA piracy hotline at (800) 388-7478, or go to the SIIA Web site.
  • Contact Microsoft. Read Microsoft's guidelines for reporting piracy here. That Web page contains the e-mail address and the information you'll need to provide. The toll-free number in the U.S. is (800) RU-LEGIT, or (800) 785-3448.
  • Contact Novell. You can read Novell's anti-piracy policy here. To report piracy of a Novell product in the U.S. and Canada, call 1-800-PIRATES (1-800-747-2837) or 801-861-7101.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battlefield. Don't miss a single report by subscribing to Jeff's View from Ground Zero TechMail. You'll get a bonus of Jeff's picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.
Save a buck and sacrifice your honor
If any single group in the IT community should know better than to participate in piracy, it's the folks who are certified. Unfortunately, the process of becoming certified often leads students down the path of piracy.

I talked to TechRepublic member Jeff M. Belina about piracy among test-takers. Mr. Belina is a senior engineer, is certified in MCP, MCSD, MCDBA, MCSE, MSS, i-Net+, and has a number of BrainBench.com certifications including MS SQL Programmer/DBA. He is also a moderator of the MCDBA discussion list.

Mr. Belina described two typical scenarios: "Number one, you have a bunch of friends studying for a test, and they purchase one [practice exam] to split up the costs among the group. It's still not legal according to the license agreement. Second, what do you do if a friend gives you a copy of a [practice exam] that happens to be for the exam you're studying for?"

"So how would you react in those situations?" I asked.

"For number one, I would try not to be part of it, but I haven't ever done anything else about it. For number two, I came up with a list of free resources to help me study and didn't use the CD I got from the friend [emphasis added]. It took me a while to come up with that solution. For me, it has been easier to stay away from those problems because I work at a company where there are good study books in our library."

I know I'm preaching to the choir to most IT people, certified or not, but just because you can pirate software or study materials doesn't mean you should. To those of you who think stealing software is okay, be forewarned: One of these days, one of the good guys is going to turn you in.
If you're caught pirating software, don't assume all you'll get is a slap on the wrist. Read John McCormick’s "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?" and learn about the painful consequences of your actions. To comment on this article, please start or add to a discussion below, or write to Jeff.

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