If General Motors has a good year, are you entitled to a free Cadillac?

Well, no. But if Symantec or Microsoft has a stellar quarter, some IT workers might use that as justification to help themselves to an unlicensed copy of Norton AntiVirus or Windows 2000 Professional.

Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance, said this is a common excuse that some businesses and individuals give for using unlicensed software.

“For organizations that rationalize this behavior based on the success of the company that they’re pirating, their excuses don’t hold water,” Kruger said.

One of the recommendations the BSA makes to businesses is to have a policy that explains how employees can acquire software. We kept that in mind a few weeks ago when we asked our members if their organization had a policy that prohibited software piracy.

Besides asking our members whether they had a policy, we asked whether organizations that don’t have one try to police themselves. Of the 185 members that responded, 55 (29 percent) told us that was the case in their organization.

While the majority of respondents, 39 percent, told us that their policies were enforced with internal audits, 16 percent said that no one follows their software policy.

Finally, 16 percent told us that it was common to find unlicensed software in their organization.

We wondered how our results compared to a recent study by the BSA that found that the piracy rate in the United States was about 25 percent.

After reviewing our numbers, Kruger suggested that the problem might be more widespread than the BSA’s earlier survey indicates. Some of the greatest violations, he contended, could be coming from the group that says that they police themselves.

“In our experience, this is a fine way of finding yourself with a problem on your hands,” he said.

Kruger said the fact that only 40 percent of the respondents said they had software policies tells him that many organizations don’t fully consider their legal obligations to using software. He suggested that businesses should address software licensing with the same seriousness as OSHA or ADA regulations.

What should businesses do?
Besides educating your employees about software piracy, establishing a software policy, and requiring your employees to sign it, Kruger recommends that organizations:

  1. Develop realistic and adequate budgets for software purchases. Often, organizations will lowball the amount of money they plan to spend because they count on making unlicensed copies of software.
  2. Perform regular audits to ensure that employees are complying with the software policy.
  3. Assign one person in the organization—the CIO, IT manager, or another member of the IT staff—to ensure that the software policy is being followed.

Other resources
Here are some additional TechRepublic articles that discuss software piracy:

What does your software policy include? Send it to us and we’ll share it with other TechRepublic members.