The most recent battle in the IT industry is not over which operating system or brand of PC to buy but which anti-piracy campaign to support.
Earlier this month, the BSA (Business Software Alliance) gained yet another of FAST's largest members - Microsoft - following the departure early last year of both Adobe and Novell.
According to Microsoft, the reason for abandoning FAST and concentrating its efforts purely on the BSA lies in the fact that the BSA has global coverage, while FAST focuses only on the UK.
According to Geoff Webster, FAST's CEO, this is all very well but he believes that, despite the fact the two organisations are fighting a common evil, relations between the two are becoming increasingly confrontational and that the BSA has done nothing to alleviate this.
Webster recently told PC Week that the BSA should "keep out of the UK" and leave FAST to fight the anti-piracy war on its own.
He said there would be no merger between the two organisations - an idea which was originally discussed and abandoned back in 1990 and which, according to Webster, was highly unpopular with FAST members.
"Our members want FAST to be independent and not directed by a small number of companies, as the BSA is. They want representation from a broad-ranging body."
Webster said Microsoft's withdrawal from FAST won't impact the organisation from a financial point of view. "Microsoft's contribution to FAST was only around 4% of our income. We may have lost three or four major players but in terms of numbers of members this won't cause us any problems," he commented. "The major disappointment from our point of view was more a moral issue in the lack of support."
He went on to say that many of FAST's members (there are currently 140 members including Oracle and Computer Associates) believe that Microsoft, Adobe and Novell are now "freeloading" and benefiting from FAST's work without making any contribution themselves.
Rather than marking the beginning of a mass departure from the anti-piracy group, Webster said recent events have, if anything, reinforced members' support and his belief that the BSA should keep out of the UK is driven by the members themselves.
"We have tried to work with the BSA in the past," he said, "but our overtures have been rebuffed."
Despite the fact that FAST has always been solely UK-based, Webster said it may decide to branch out into Europe. "It's too strong to say there are any plans," he said. "We've begun to explore what would make sense in the rest of Europe where piracy levels are much higher. I suspect we may make a move during the course of this year."
Following its departure from FAST, Microsoft said its corporate policy on anti-piracy was a global commitment to the BSA.
Sharon Baylay, anti-piracy marketing manager for Microsoft in the UK, said: "If we had unlimited resources, we would belong to both FAST and the BSA, but we can't spread ourselves too thin."
The same reeasons were given by Adobe and Novell last February.
Ricky Liversidge, Adobe's then marketing director in the UK, commented: "FAST has been focused on car boot sales and the lower end of the market and the BSA focuses on the high end. We felt we should put our money behind one organisation."
Martin Smith, Novell's licensing manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, held a similar view: "Novell's piracy problem is very specifically in the channel. We only have a finite amount of money available to fight piracy and we have to make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck."
Webster was quick to defend FAST: "Looking at software piracy as a whole, only 4% of the problem is imported, 96% is domestic. Companies such as Microsoft may have problems in countries like China for which they are right to be with the BSA, but it is wrong for them to walk away from the most effective group in Europe - FAST. Last year we upped by 20% the amount of illegal software we took off the street, #100 million in total."
It seems reasonable that groups in direct competition may from time to time feel the need to sling a little mud at each other in the name of marketing. But when two bodies who have in effect been working towards a common goal for years begin to disagree it's bad news for all involved except perhaps for the software pirates who can carry on undisturbed as the squabbles continue.
BSA: working to fight piracy
Yvonne McLean (pictured right), chair of the BSA's UK committee, said: "The BSA represents a number of software companies that are not just UK-based but are worldwide. More importantly, the BSA represents companies that FAST does not and these companies have a legitimate presence and income in this country.
"The upshot is that FAST does not represent them because these companies have chosen to support the BSA. Is FAST saying that, because of this decision, these companies have no right to be represented in the UK?
"Companies which are members of the BSA are companies which feel the BSA best represents their interests. Working together to fight piracy is what the BSA is there for and we have both promotional and enforcement arms.
"Software piracy is not a local problem, it is not a UK specific problem.
The advantage of the BSA is that it is not just based on these shores.
If the BSA keeps out of the UK, who will represent the companies that we do and FAST does not?
"Any talks of the two organisations working alongside must take place between FAST and the BSA themselves and not be the subject of debate in the press."
FAST: members include
- Travelling Software
- Dr Solomon's
- Computer Associates
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