The introduction by the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) of a damages programme for historical software misuse will increase the pressure on end users to get their licensing estates in order, the not-for-profit body's CEO has told CRN.
FAST has always sought to get compensation for its members - consisting of vendors with any intellectual property in the form of business software - by making sure the end user pays for the licence going forward. However, FAST CEO Alex Hilton said that the new damages programme seeks to claim compensation for historical misuse of the software, in an attempt to make companies compliant.
"For years we have been running programmes where we act on behalf of our members, and act on reports coming in from individuals about illegal software in businesses," he explained. "We pursue them on behalf of our members and ensure the end user is legally licensed.
"Some companies have been unlicensed for two or three years. We get them to be licenced going forward, but what about the two or three years they weren't? That is why we released our damages programme, which is a means of ensuring they pay retrospectively. It's a way to make sure everyone plays with a straight bat."
All members of the body will have access to the programme, which means FAST will have the power of attorney to act on behalf of its members by requesting data from end users and asking for proof of licensing.
If it becomes clear that the user does not have a licence for the software, FAST will use an algorithm to work out how much the user must pay the vendor for the time it was using the unlicensed software. Hilton added that legally this can be charged at the highest price point the vendor would charge for that software.
"From an end user's perspective, if they don't think they can just continue to use software without paying it, and realise that they are going to end up with a bill at the end of it either way - perhaps an even bigger one - then they will be aware of it and be licensed from day one. There are potential damages to their brand and their reputation if they are found to be in breach of software licensing."
Hilton referenced the Business Software Alliance's (BSA) Seizing Opportunities Through Licence Compliance report from May 2016, which found that 22 per cent of software installed on PCs in the UK was unlicensed in 2015, down from 24 per cent in 2013. It also found that the commercial value of the licences dropped four per cent from £2,019 in 2013 to £1,935 in 2015.
"In the BSA report there is a tiny movement in the number," said Hilton. "But it is pretty flat. There is only a slight decline. There are still a quarter or so of organisations that are still using software illegally. The decline is nothing material, frankly.
"I think there is still a big issue. Some people still don't take it seriously until suddenly it appears on their doorstep. It is not something that can be swept under the carpet and ignored."
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