The Jig Is Up

Think no one knows about those bootlegged disks? The BSA has its eye on you.

It's just another day at the office. You're busy trying to squeeze some cash flow out of your entrepreneurial dream when your assistant interrupts to announce there's a Federal marshal out front with a search warrant. Mistake? No, and your day just got a whole lot busier.

The marshal is accompanied by some guys in suits who claim to represent the BSA-which sounds vaguely familiar, but Boy Scouts they definitely are not. BSA stands for Business Software Alliance, a trade association for the heaviest of software heavies-Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec, Autodesk.

No doubt, you've installed some of their programs on your hard drives. In fact, BSA probably sent you a letter a while back asking for an insane amount of money because you made too many copies. Didn't you read your software licensing agreements? Softletter editor Jeffrey Tarter translates the wherefores and whereases roughly as: "You don't own the programs you 'bought'; you only get to use them under the conditions set by their different publishers."

Despite economic conditions in 2001, the global PDA industry grew
over the previous year.
SOURCE: Gartner Inc.

Yeah, it's all a big misunderstanding. But before your lips can form the words "Gimme a break," the guys in suits have filed in and sat down at your desktops. In no time, they'll have all the proof they need to label you a software pirate.

It's a well-oiled routine that made businesses pay over $13 million in penalties last year and about $70 million over the past decade. BSA recently collected $275,000 from three small Arizona companies, more than $439,000 from four Texas companies, almost $186,000 from three companies in Connecticut and $91,694 from a single Missouri company. Those dollars will be invested in educational and enforcement programs.

Think those few extra copies your employees make are not worth enough to get BSA's dander up? They will, says vice president of enforcement Bob Kruger. BSA blames casual copying for much of the $2.6 billion or so that business software publishers lose in the United States every year. That costs America about 118,000 jobs, $5.7 billion in wages and $1.5 billion in taxes annually, by BSA's reckoning.

Tarter, who has tracked the industry for 20 years, considers those numbers grossly inflated: "I've gone through their research methodology. It's Rube Goldberg stuff and entirely political."

He may be right. But that won't help.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Jig Is Up.

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