August 12, 2002

Michael's Minute: License and registration please

I have a confession to make. In spite of driving a four door sedan, I'm not tentative with the accelerator pedal. Occasionally, I've heard the dreaded "license and registration please," from a law enforcement official, I don't fault the authority for pulling me over and doing their job. However, I would have a problem if an officer pulled me over with no provocation and proceeded to threaten me if I didn't confess to some past transgression. Yet, that's exactly what happened last week.
Only it wasn't a police officer accosting me, but rather the self-appointed software police known as the BSA (Business Software Alliance). Let me explain - or better yet, let me quote verbatim from the letter they sent to me.

"You may have heard that the Business Software Alliance is investigating San Diego area organizations that use unlicensed software."

The letter goes on, "BSA recognizes that, for whatever reason, your company may not have managed its software assets properly. That's why from August 1-31, 2002, BSA is offering a Software Grace Period to businesses like yours in San Diego."

"The penalties for copyright infringement are serious - sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Further on, they talk about how by repenting immediately, if my "organization becomes the focus of a BSA investigation, BSA will not seek to impose penalties for any unauthorized copying that occurred before August 31, 2002".

It's likely this is a form letter they blanketed San Diego businesses and will soon hit your city if they haven't already. I don't fault BSA for attempting to educate consumers about the laws relating to the purchase and use of software (which they do in other parts of the letter). What's disturbing is the tact at which they take which is to put forth unsubstantiated accusations with their "assume everyone is guilty approach." Can you imagine getting such a letter from the music industry about your CD collection? Or how about from the movie industry inquiring about video tapes you might have made or possess? No other industry I can think of treats their customers as criminals by default.

The letter demonstrates what is wrong with the computer software business. Rather than getting simpler and more affordable to purchase software, it's getting more draconian and complex. In an effort to maximize profits, many companies are resorting to complicated payment and registration schemes all of which are designed principally to charge consumers more. (Microsoft just enacted License 6.0 which has 24 different payment options, price levels, maintenance plans, licensing agreements and customer categories, according to a recent InformationWeek article.) They're paying companies like BSA to be their attack dogs. It's becoming more complicated to buy computer software when it should be becoming easier and cheaper. Juggling registration codes makes it even more costly. (At the same time I received the BSA letter, I received a solicitation from a different company offering to sell me software which keeps track of my other software and licenses - yikes!)

So what can you do about it? Investigate and embrace alternative ways to acquire software which are straightforward and affordable. I think one of the best alternatives is the LindowsOS membership, or think about purchasing one of those Walmart computers that comes with LindowsOS. For an affordable fee of $99, a user can gain access to a catalog of software to accomplish just about any general computing task. Click here for a list of our most popular titles. Instead of licensing individual titles for hundreds of dollars each and tracking which users have which ones, a computer user can pay one fee and install well over 1000 programs - each with a single mouse click . If you're in an office with multiple people, then simply purchase a LindowsOS membership for each user and you'll not only be saving a bundle over the traditional costs of software, but be side stepping complex license tracking issues. Supporting those companies that don't embrace complex licensing structures and instead offer low-cost solutions, is the best way to insure that the software business moves forward in a consumer friendly manner.

As for the BSA's demand to see my 'license and registration', I'll have to let them know that I won't be needing their offer of a "Grace Period Participation #55128" since I'm running LindowsOS and all the software on my computer is from the Warehouse.

Michael Robertson

LindowsOS and are trademarks of, Inc. Linux® is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft® Windows® operating system is a registered trademark or service mark of the Microsoft Corporation.


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