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Software Bounty Hunters Cause Trouble for Unsuspecting Firms

Software Bounty Hunters Cause Trouble for Unsuspecting Firms

Entrepreneur’s Notebook

by GEORGE SALMAS

Are you being targeted by a software bounty hunter?

If you’re not sure, then consider this: Sometimes a company employee “helps out a friend” by loading a copy of a program into the friend’s PC at work. Or maybe an employee has a program at home he or she likes, so a copy is loaded into the PC at work. And some companies just don’t care they buy one copy of a program and “spread the wealth.”

If anyone in your company is copying software, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in fines and wasted time repurchasing and auditing programs.

However innocent or deliberate you or your employees’ intentions are, you’re just a phone call away from being caught. It could be a disgruntled employee. An irate customer. A vendor with a vengeance. Someday some anonymous tip that you are using unlicensed copies of software could be made to a software bounty hunter and your life will be turned upside down.

The software bounty hunters are private corporations that have agreements with most software companies who empower them to not only root out offenders but levy penalties and ensure the pirated software copies are destroyed.

After you’ve paid your fine, an officer of the offending company is then required to certify that all the pirated software copies have been destroyed. But that’s not all. If the value of your unlicensed programs is greater than some threshold set by the bounty hunters, they add your name to a list of “software pirates” that they post on their Web site and publish at various times to promote their services.

You say you don’t want your company to be named on “America’s Most Wanted Software Pirates” list? No problem. You pay the bounty hunters an additional “privacy fee” and your name comes off the list. After all, they are bounty hunters.

If an anonymous call about pirated software is made directly to a software publisher, they will usually make a deal with the offender to sell them the software license in question at inflated rates.

But you’re still not safe from the bounty hunters. The software manufacturer may then call the local software bounty hunter and alert them to the fact there may be other pirated programs circulating in your company. The bounty hunter then calls you and threatens to sue for hundreds of thousands of dollars unless you settle with him for something in the neighborhood of 2.5 times the cost of the programs in question.

But after you pay that penalty to the bounty hunter you still don’t own the unlicensed program. You have to go back to the various software publishers and re-buy the original programs. Now you’ve paid about 3.5 times the cost of the program.

So, how do you protect yourself?

– Don’t copy programs. Do the right thing, pony up and buy the programs your company needs.

– Take time to properly store and file your software and your licenses. This comes in handy if you ever do get caught pirating, you can prove which copies are legitimate so you don’t get fined for all the copies on your system.

– Warn your employees. Post notices that software piracy is grounds for termination and make good on enforcing your policy.

– Keep a log of which software is installed on each terminal and who has access to each workstation. Workstations should be password protected.

– If you are caught, call your lawyer. Attorneys experienced in software copyrights can help you identify information that can reduce the amount of the fine.

George Salmas is founder of the Salmas Law Group in Century City. Contact him at GSalmas@Salmas-Law.com.

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