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FIRST PERSON: The big crackdown

FIRST PERSON: The big crackdown

It's been an interesting couple of months watching the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA) and its financiers, some of the world's largest software vendors, launch a rather large crusade against piracy and licensing breaches and anything else they can get publicity/cash from.

The other day, one of these giants made a record revenue of $US6.59 billion for one quarter. The poor things obviously need the money.

But lets not get straight into a stock standard vendor bash here. I recently had a chat to one of Microsoft's corporate lawyers here in Australia after they quite legitimately took a reseller to court over software piracy. This is well justified, as the scale of the piracy involved in this case could have adverse consequences for the legitimate Microsoft channel, which doesn't have the greatest margin to work with in the first place.

There are other everyday examples though, of vendors taking such action against small business owners who have made licensing errors. In some cases, we're talking about running the software on one too many desktops.

If a major corporation breaches licensing agreements, vendors should feel justified taking legal action against them. A company with hundreds to thousands of employees generally has one person or more assigned to handling licensing. A breach in this situation could cost a vendor more money than I will see in a lifetime. But why should a vendor bother taking action against a small business that made a slight error?

I recently asked one of Microsoft's lawyers where the vendor draws the line - does a small breach get treated the same way as blatant abuse? The reason I asked is because not so long ago, ARN editor Gerard Norsa was approached by the vendor with the news that they were taking legal action against a small reseller over licensing breaches. His investigation found the reseller claiming to be the victim of a frustrated ex-employee who was trying to stir up some trouble for their old boss. What they ended up stirring was MS's PR machine, which jumped on it as an example of licensing abuse.

Microsoft claimed it made a request for the reseller to send them an audit but received no response. The target claimed he was then set upon after telling an intrusive lawyer to "get #&*ed!".

So a reseller ends up with the name of his business being sent to every press outlet under the sun as an example of a licensing cheat and has to hire legal advice just because he stretched his licensing by one or two desktops. Too heavy? I think so. My call is, if these guys can afford to pay the BSAA vast amounts of money to curb piracy, why bother to treat a small business so severely over something so insignificant?

For the vendors, the scare campaign is working. I spoke to an IT manager the other day who chose his licensing through one particular enterprise reseller because it offered a Web site which tracked and budgeted for every computer-related product he licensed from them. I asked the reseller why that would be such an important factor in the customers' choice. "So as not to get out of favour with the auditors at Microsoft perhaps," he said.

Brett Winterford looks after Channel.com and Web Developer and likes to stir things up just as much as Microsoft's PR machine.


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