Under the name of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Microsoft and its allies continue to bombard small businesses with anti-piracy mailings demanding that customers audit their licensing compliance; it is becoming pretty obvious who the real buccaneers are in search of plunder.
Between the BSA's regional "truce" campaigns and Microsoft's innumerable marketing efforts cloaked in anti-piracy garb, a small business in a targeted area can find itself inundated with mail, e-mail, faxes, phone calls, and even radio and TV broadcasts, with dire warnings that the software police are about to knock on their door.
The BSA truce mailings by themselves would constitute a fairly reasonable attempt to put the fear of Bill Gates into the hearts of those guilty of using unlicensed software without unduly alarming the innocent. In the US, they are also likely to get one or more missives from Microsoft inviting them to participate in its own truce, and may also get a follow-up phone call from someone asking pointed questions about their computer installations. With the accompanying blitz of radio and TV ads, plus stories in the local press about previous raids on a local business, it is no wonder that people feel as if they are under attack.
Another way Microsoft is rattling its anti-piracy sword is by encouraging its resellers to contact their customers in truce-targeted cities. In the US, resellers are provided with a package of materials that they can use to contact customers by mail, e-mail, phone, or fax to let them know that it is time to get in compliance.
It is hard to say how many resellers are actually participating in making noise about piracy, because I've had more resellers express disgust with the idea than I've had customers complaining about compliance pitches from their Microsoft resellers. After all, resellers may not want to risk generating ill will among customers - a possibility that doesn't seem to concern Microsoft in the least. One reader who did get a call from his reseller, breathlessly warning him to buy some licences to keep the software police away, said "I may have to put up with this kind of [stuff] from Microsoft, but there are lots of resellers out there. Anybody who tries to intimidate me like this has just lost a customer."
Another reason some resellers may not climb on that anti-piracy bandwagon is that some have themselves been the target of a Microsoft mailing. Some MCPs (Microsoft Certified Partners) have received a letter from a regional Microsoft "compliance manager" requesting that they audit their own use of Microsoft software. The negative publicity that could result from an MCP being audited by the BSA and found non-compliant would be extremely embarrassing for the MCP and Microsoft, the letter points out. Yet it doesn't ask them to audit their use of non-Microsoft software, not even the products of Microsoft's BSA partners, although that would surely be at least as embarrassing.
How far can an industry go in treating its customers like the enemy before it suffers a backlash? I think we're likely to find out one day.
Got a complaint about how a vendor is treating you? Ed Foster is standing up for resellers in the US, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact ARN's reader advocate, Richard Noone, at richard_noone.idg.com.au