“We’ve made a Business Decision… to Pirate Software”

Susan Bradley has a great blog entry regarding dealing with clients who use illegal/unlicensed software.

My own take is that there isn’t any justification for using pirated software anymore (like there ever really was!).

With the growth of the Open Source Community, the typical excuse for using pirated software of "The software is too expensive to buy for a small company like ours – but we *need* it" is blown apart. You genuinely can’t afford Microsoft Office? No problem – use Open Office instead. It’s free! Need the additional features Microsoft Office provides? There’s your incentive for splashing out and purchasing a license.

This time last year I dealt with a client who had a dozen computers and wanted to move to a centralised server environment. My quote to them included a dozen Microsoft Office licenses, which surprised the client who raised the point that he was already running Microsoft Office. "Illegally" I added to that statement. All the MS Office 2000 licenses were using the same CD-key, a well known pirated key.

So I offered them the Open Source alternative. "But we use Outlook and Excel, we *need* them" they said. Then you’ll be needing a dozen MS Office licenses I explained. "Can’t we buy them at a later date?". Afraid not! I went on to explain how licensing worked and how not purchasing a license meant you were using software illegally. I could have explained financing options – but I was already getting the sinking feeling that it wasn’t a case of the client not being able to afford to buy those licenses, it was a case of them not wanting to pay for something they’d already been using for free for so long.

Therefore buy the licenses and become compliant, remove the pirated software or continue as you are and knowingly break the law were the three options. The decision that came back from the client was nothing short of stunning.

"We’ve made a Business Decision to continue as we are".

In other words, we’ve made a Business Decision… to break the law.

I informed the client that unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to undertake the work for them as a result of their decision.

On this occasion, sanity prevailed and my stance jolted the client into doing the right thing. But from that moment on I considered… if the client was happy to rip off Microsoft, maybe they’d be just as happy to rip me off when my invoice was presented? Thankfully they didn’t, but they weren’t a great client (always paid late, needed chasing for payment) and perhaps I should have followed my gut instinct and walked away at the start.

So whether you are a Consultant, employee or Contractor at a company that uses pirated software – consider that if that company has no business ethics when it comes to breaking the copyright laws, what else might they be equally comfortable at doing nasty or underhanded when dealing with you?


2 Responses to ““We’ve made a Business Decision… to Pirate Software””

  1. 1 Mike January 2, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Ric,
            I\’d like to applaud your blog which deals with a sometimes tricky subject. Like many others I have in the past used pirated software. For the most part it was not a deliberate act but more one of ignorance (which is no excuse). However, since I\’ve moved into the world of commercial software development I\’ve got a much better appreciation of this subject. Using pirated software is theft. Pure and simple theft. The fact that many people are quite happy to steal software from Microsoft "because they make so much money" does not change the fact that it\’s stealing. Stealing from a rich man is no different from stealing from a poor one – it\’s still stealing.
    Developing software costs a lot in terms of people, time and money. Without charging a fee for the right to use that software the developers stifle their ability to continuously improve their product and puts the brakes on innovation. Whilst "free" open source software is a lovely idea it\’s only available because:
    a) It tends to mimic commercial software rather than innovate (not always but mostly)
    b) the developers typically work for commercial software companies and develop the "free" stuff in their spare time.
    Nobody would dream of walking into a toyota dealership and driving a RAV4 off the forecourt without paying for it even though Toyota are the biggest car manufacturer in the world  – using pirated software is no different.
    Another reason to use official sourced and paid for software is one of safety. A significant proportion of the software that is pirated via the internet contains additional code that you wouldn\’t want on your pc. Trojans and spyware are commonplace. You could actually be losing a lot more than the money you think you\’re saving.
    Anyway. Interesting article and I\’m glad you made the stand you did. Have a great new year and I hope the decisions you make for your business in 2008 are good ones.

  2. 2 Richard January 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Hi Mike – appreciate the comments. Like the analogy between pirated software and an RAV4! You raise a good point over the quality (or lack of) of pirated software, just another reason (if the fact that it\’s morally objectionable isn\’t enough) not to pirate software.

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