The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has angered UK users by sending them threatening letters, demanding that they fill in its Crackdown 97 questionnaire on software copyright, or lay themselves open to possible legal action.
The approach has been construed by many as aggressive and unnecessarily harsh in tone, but the BSA said it had been forced to act tough because it was clear a large number of companies showed a blatant disregard for the organisation?s attempts to stamp out software piracy.
?The small and medium-sized businesses in particular seemed to feel that they weren?t the target of our messages, thinking that enforcement only happens to larger companies, not us. We needed to do something attention-grabbing because it?s clear there?s a particular problem in that sector,? said Evan Cox, the organisation?s European legal counsel.
He added that the letter made it clear the BSA was not threatening legal action on the basis of not returning its questionnaire, but that if a company completed it, undertook an audit, and ensured its software licensing policy was valid, it would not be penalised for sins of the past.
The letter explains: ?The penalties for software licence abuse are real and pose a genuine threat for those companies, which flout the copyright laws in this country...If you do not return this form, then your company will remain exposed to the full consequences of legal proceedings, which may be brought in the event that we find illegal software in use by your organisation following a tip to our hotline or form another source of information.?
UK anger over the BSA?s stance, however, comes only weeks after a Belgian court ordered the organisation to stop a similar campaign in Belgium and barred it from operating as a not-for-profit company, ruling that its purposes were entirely commercial (see Newswire 1 December).
The BSA plans to file an appeal against the decision next month because it believes the case was ?wrongly decided?, even under Belgian law, but Cox maintains that its actions are ?fully legal? under the UK system, and so does not expect any writs to follow.
The UK Advertising Standards Authority has also backed it by agreeing that its recent advertising campaign was ?consistent with standards and the law?, following a complaint from one company, he said.
Dennis Keeling, director at the Business and Accounting Software Developers Association, said: ?Whilst I understand the BSA?s position in working towards ensuring companies adhere to software standards and don?t pirate software, I think this is a bit of a high-handed way of doing it.?
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