BSA issues amnesty

Along with the usual assortment of late-arriving holiday cards, many companies found notices from the Business Software Alliance in their inboxes last week. The Washington, DC-based software piracy watchdog group has granted yet another month-long "grace period" during which companies using unlicensed software can "get legal."

The BSA, which is said to have collected more than $68 million in penalties over the past nine years, has granted similar grace periods 11 times since August 2000. This one runs between January 1 and January 31, 2002, and is being offered to about 800,000 businesses in selected areas of the country, including: Nashville, Indianapolis, San Francisco/San Jose/Oakland, Houston, Orlando, Norfolk/Richmond, Va.; and Bozeman/Billings/Missoula, Mont.

The correspondence reads in part: "BSA recognizes that your company may not have all the time it needs to manage its software assets properly, but by participating in the Grace Period, your business will have time to catch up."

Catching up, of course, means deleting unlicensed programs or paying the appropriate license fees. Companies that become compliant with the copyright laws during the grace period will not be penalized for violations that occurred before January 31.

The BSA is also running radio spots in the targeted markets. During the somewhat ominous ads, Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the BSA, tells listeners that current or former employees report most software licensing violations. "I would say to businesses that, unless you have no current or former unhappy employees, you are only one phone call away from a BSA investigation," Kruger warns. "This is not a traffic ticket."

The fine for violating software copyright can run as high as $150,000 per infringement. That's no traffic ticket, but it's chicken feed compared with the $12 billion software publishers estimate they lose each year worldwide to pirates.

The message of the so-called awareness campaign is clear: Turn yourself in now or face steep fines later. According to Kruger, it's a message that's getting through. He says that the BSA grace-period Web site ( has received more than 100,000 hits since August 2000, and its tip line has received 50,000 calls. Most of the calls, he says, are from disgruntled employees.

For organizations that are itching to get legal, the BSA is providing a free-for-download version of the GASP audit tool at its Web site ( Designed to audit systems that are either stand-alone or connected to a LAN, and available for Windows or Mac users, this version of the tool is restricted to the audit and processing of no more than 100 systems (desktops, laptops, servers) and will cease functioning after 60 days. Downloads are limited to one per organization.

The Business Software Alliance is an international organization representing software and e-commerce developers in 65 countries. The group was established in 1988 and has offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The group's membership roster includes Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, Autodesk, Macromedia, Microsoft, and Symantec, among others. Compaq, Dell, Entrust, IBM, Intel, Intuit, Network Associates, Novell, and Sybase are members of the group's Policy Council.

Microsoft sent out its own letter announcing the amnesty, which included an offer for a free consultation and a discount on Windows upgrades. It also contained a footnoted reminder that companies under investigation before the grace period are excluded from the amnesty.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].