It cannot be denied that illegal software has its appeal. Many programs, particularly specialist niche software can come at a costly price, as can the licensing agreements that often come attached. Being caught with pirated software, however, can carry many legal and financial risks. The company who own the software’s copyrights could very well take civil or even criminal proceedings against the person or company in question; even if they’re not aware they’re doing it. Accidental breach of software licenses can lead to unjustly large fines and criminal charges.

The chances of getting caught are now significantly high since the formation of the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Their members include Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Macromedia, Dell, IBM, Symantec, Veritos and more, forming one of the most diligent watchdogs currently in operation. It’s fair to say that this powerful alliance takes software licensing breaches very seriously.

The BSA has an obvious degree of influence and regularly communicates with corporations, governments and other important bodies, also spending a fair amount of time collating data and information regarding suspected pirates. The BSA regularly performs audits on companies and administers fines where necessary. If a company are unable to provide correct licensing proof, they are susceptible to fines even though in many instances they would have to actively volunteer information for the auditors who may not be legally entitled to see it.

Fortunately, there are preventive actions and IT solutions that can be taken should a company find themselves in breach of the law – intentionally or otherwise. One of these is retrospective purchase of the software license, therefore avoiding any future legal problems. Another, and arguably the most viable, is to take pre-emptive action that ensures all software is fully licensed and legal to use, meaning the business cannot be found guilty of any wrongdoing.

One way of ensuring that all software is licensed is through an Asset Management service, designed to carry out an audit on all computers connected to a network – undoubtedly better than the service being carried out by the BSA. Although there may be a considerable fee to have the task carried about by a specialist consultant and to implement the suggested changes, the overall cost outweighs the risk of receiving a criminal or civil offence warning. There could also be savings to be made as a consultant can review existing arrangements, their value for money and go on to recommend alternatives.

It is becoming increasingly important to have an effective Software Asset Management scheme in place due to the huge fines that may be administered by the BSA. Such a scheme allows companies optimise software assets by developing and implementing certain procedures and policies, as well as monitor any impending license expirations and upgrades. It also helps to maximise investment by highlighting the company’s software benefits and costs.

This includes the highlighting of unused software that is being paid for, as well as the assurance that business functions are not being undertaken by illegal, unlicensed or duplicated software, giving the company in question peace of mind.