“I’d already thought it through for long enough, probably a couple of months before I actually did it,” he says, “So when I hit the send button it wasn’t like ‘oh what have I done’. I’d already hesitated about it.”
He was then contacted by Sydney law firm Harris & Company which pursues cases on behalf of the BSA in Australia, and was Chris’ main contact throughout the process.
They asked him follow-up questions – How many staff are there? Who sits where? Could he sketch the office layout? He then began to gather evidence in the form of screenshots of files and software in use – taking care not to be caught in the act.
It wasn’t easy. Soon after Chris submitted the form, the company was hit with an audit letter which led to a “wiping all computers to make them look squeaky clean”. But the cover-up didn’t last long.
Files were soon made accessible via a central repository where multiple users could make edits.
Chris – usually after hours when most of his colleagues had left for the night – captured screen shots of the repository’s log, showing who submitted which files and when.
“That was pretty damning because I could access that log all the way back to revision one, the very first file that was ever put on the repository. It allowed me to get a pretty concrete beginning date and a pretty comprehensive list of how many people had been doing it. That was the meatiest evidence I was able to get,” he says.
There was a weeks-long period of back and forth between Chris and the legal firm which itself was going back and forth with the company to negotiate a settlement.
Chris was asked to sign off on statements and clear screenshots that had been redacted to conceal his identity. “I was pretty paranoid,” Chris says, “it is a weight on the mind.”
From the legal firm Chris heard how the company was responding, he says.
“Their story went from outright denial of everything at the very beginning to ‘ah well it was a couple of bad staff who have put it on there and management didn’t have any knowledge of it and our company would never steal software’, to ‘ah yeah we did know about it but it was just a couple of copies’,” he says.
Eventually, knowing the legal firm had solid evidence the use of unlicensed software was the norm across the business; the company was “dead to rights,” Chris said.
Chris was preparing to go on the record in a civil proceeding against the company, when he got word a settlement had been reached. He was never told for how much.
“It was a bit of a mix of being happy, but maybe a bit disappointed that I couldn’t find more evidence for them… the company I was working for probably got away with it pretty lightly,” he says.
“I’m pretty sure they would have had a few more skeletons in the closet.”
Over the last four years the total amount won by the BSA in settlements annually in Australia has averaged at $381,000. The settlement with Chris’ firm was among the highest in value that year.
Sense of justice
Chris no longer works for the company and the reward he received for assisting the BSA has nearly dried up.
“It’s helping but that money disappears pretty quick when you’re out of work,” he says.
He is unsure whether the company ever found out it was him who dobbed them in. There may have been “little indicators” that gave him away, he thinks. He didn’t hear from the BSA or the legal firm again, until he was approached to participate in this article.
“I did feel a little bit like ‘we’ve got what we need, thanks for playing, see you later’,” he says.
Nevertheless, he believes it was worth the trouble. That he did the right thing.
“It’s not like they were stealing software to try and save a drowning company. I would have sympathy for them then possibly. But that’s not the case, that’s not what they were,” he says.
“It just really rubs me the wrong way to for them to be preaching about company values and that kind of thing. I have a pretty strong sense of justice and fairness and what is right and for them to be preaching company values when they’re liars and cheats – that just rubbed me the wrong way.”
* Not his real name