How healthy are your software licences?

4 June, 2009

The Business Software Alliance is promoting a “Software Health Check” – a software licensing “self-audit” scheme to encourage businesses to ensure they have valid licences for all the software they use (and for all the ways in which they use it).

Software licensing can be highly complex, especially as virtualisation, multi-core processors and outsourcing transform how companies use their IT. There are probably few companies that are 100% licensed for all the software they use.

Of course, there is another side to the BSA’s initiative. I’ve noticed a trend in recent months for software companies to approach their customers demanding an audit of their licensing, and this voluntary self-audit scheme probably has a similar motivation: namely, software owners making extra efforts to ensure they receive their full entitlement of licensing and support income from existing customers, in a climate where new business is harder to come by.

And the BSA’s website includes prominent links for those wishing to “report piracy”. Again, this may be an important area of exposure for many businesses, as layoffs (not least in IT departments) may prompt disgruntled ex-employees to report their former employers for use of unlicensed (or “under-licensed”) software.

So it’s highly recommended that businesses take the hint and review their software licensing position. However, they should take care to note that each software licence needs to be considered on its own terms, and will need looking at particularly carefully if:

  • they are using software in a “non-traditional” way (such as virtualisation, remote access or “in the cloud”); or
  • they have grown significantly as a business since entering into their software licence agreements.

If in doubt (and you knew this was coming, but it needs saying anyway!): talk to your lawyers to check you are within the terms of your licences, and certainly talk to them (and quickly) if the BSA comes knocking on your door.