By www.bsa.org

Most businesses don’t intend to use illegal software, or break the terms of their license agreements, but through a combination of bad planning, inadequate IT policies or simply a lack of awareness, many end up doing so.

Software piracy takes many forms, from unlicensed software use where a business buys a single copy of the software and installs it on multiple computers, to downloading and using unauthorised copies of software from the internet.

But whatever guise it takes, software piracy carries multiple business risks. You may have to pay settlement and legal fees if you are caught out — an unplanned cost that most businesses can ill-afford. The damage to your company reputation if you are exposed could also be substantial. But what you may not realise is that you could be exposing your business critical and confidential customer information and IT systems to viruses, potentially leading to data loss, file corruption and downtime.

It doesn’t pay to be ignorant about software licensing. Michala Wardell, Chair, BSA UK Committee, offers advice on how to avoid being an accidental software pirate.

Mergers and acquisitions

If you are merging with another company, or acquiring one, your software licensing requirements are likely to change. This is a good opportunity to review all of your software assets, and reassess whether you have enough licenses to legally cover your needs. You may even find that you have too many, and can save your business some money. You should consider investing in a Software Asset Management review to ensure that all of your licenses are compliant.

Hiring more staff

When you are a growing business, with many pressures to deal with, it can be easy to overlook software licensing when you are hiring. Many businesses monitor the obvious assets such as company cars, mobile phones and laptops. However, software is often not captured or monitored in the same way, although the consequences of not monitoring it can be catastrophic. Make sure you use the tools available out there to keep track of all of your company investments.

Winning new business

If you win new business, or decide to start offering new services to your clients or customers, you may need to acquire different software. Ensure that you are purchasing legal copies from reputable sources that are fully traceable.

Don’t forget your fonts

Despite being used daily by every organisation in the world, many still do not realise that fonts are classed as Intellectual Property and need licensing just like any other piece of software. Font piracy can easily take place as fonts can be transmitted from user to user either as stand alone software or embedded within electronic documents. It can happen accidentally and there are simple steps that can be taken to license or delete fonts without incurring a fine. However, if you consciously choose to ignore font management, you leave yourself liable to an external audit and a potentially heavy fine.

Version control

Have you bought the right version of software license for your needs? If you have an education edition, but are using it for commercial purposes, you are breaching the terms of the license. If in doubt, check the software publisher’s website for more information.

Buying online

Many software pirates set themselves up with very professional looking websites to fool customers into thinking they are buying genuine goods. It is important to do a few checks before placing any orders online, especially if this is with a company you have never heard of before:

1)Is the price similar to that of any well known provider? If the price is too good to be true if often is

2)Do they provide any contact details in case of a problem? A tell tale sign of a questionable seller is someone who does not want to be contacted after they have made a sale. Is there a phone number/address for you to seek help from if you have any problems? A web form to submit details doesn’t always help you if you end up with counterfeit software.

External suppliers

Even if you think that your software licensing is in order, it is worth making sure that your external suppliers take their responsibilities as seriously as you do. Only deal with reputable businesses with a good reputation, then you won’t unwittingly put your business at risk.

Don’t assume

Don’t automatically assume that whoever looks after your IT systems will take responsibility for your software licensing. As a business owner, you are ultimately responsible for making sure that your business is not acting illegally. The reputation of your business, and your personal reputation, could be on the line if you are caught out.

Clearly counterfeit

Counterfeit software isn’t always the cheaper ‘too good to be true’ option. Some counterfeit software is of such high quality that it is very difficult to distinguish from the real thing, and may only be slightly cheaper. Many counterfeit versions come with a few hidden extras such as viruses and unwanted code, which often cause data loss. Recovering from a virus can be a very costly exercise. Always buy from reputable sources, and be aware that high quality fakes exist.

Keep records

Keep a record of purchase for all of your software. This will make it much easier to run a software audit if you are required to, and means you can review what software assets you have and use on a regular basis. Remember, for some software publishers you still need to keep the boxes as proof of license, so ensure that you have these locked away in a safe place.

Dangerous downloads

Having a policy or technical solution that prevents unauthorised software installations by your staff will help to avoid software piracy and make tracking your software much easier. With the advent of remote working, staff now have many more opportunities to download software from a variety of sources, without your knowledge. Don’t give them the opportunity to do so - you are responsible for the software that ends up on your computers, so have a clear company policy in place to mitigate any risks.

For more information go to www.bsa.org.