Thursday, December 5, 2013

Business Compliance Strategies: Avoiding “Accidental” Software Piracy

What’s the price of “accidental” or “inadvertent” software copyright infringement?  For the U.S. Government, the cost was $50 million to settle a $224.5 million copyright infringement suit brought by Apptricity, a software firm offering supply chain management and integrated finance solutions.  In this case, the U.S. Army paid for a certain number of licenses for Apptricity software to track troops and supplies in “real-time” and then significantly “over-deployed” copies to its servers and devices to the tune of thousands.

Under the U.S. Copyright Act, the infringer is liable for either actual or statutory damages plus attorneys’ fees of the copyright owner.  However, Apptricity chose to settle and the U.S. Army remains a client, according to their press release.  I surmise that Apptricity probably got the deal it wanted from the “alternative dispute resolution” process by adding some settlement agreement conditions that were not announced, such as improved monitoring for future compliance, additional maintenance fees and some other forms of future revenues.

In civilian cases, software piracy can lead to double the licensing fees plus intrusive usage monitoring, additional penalties for future infringement and adverse publicity.  On various occasions, we have had to advise clients on the realities and risks of unlawful “over-deployment” of a similar nature, or worse. The resulting process of correcting such errors is costly, distracting and damaging to your core brand value.

Executives and entrepreneurs alike should ask themselves what does it take to manage software licensing compliance?
  • Inventory Management Practices. You maintain an updated inventory of all computers and other devices and identify the authorization rules for all licensed users. You update continuously based on needs and actual uses.
  • Pricing Management Practices. You plan future growth so you can negotiate volume licensing prices. 
  • Human Resource Management. You design a compliance process to include “adult supervision” of all personnel having access to computers. This includes both internal and external personnel and external (Cloud-based) computers. The process includes policies, training, internal auditing, enforcement and may include whistleblowing and code of conduct” procedures applicable to internal and exteral (outsourced) personnel.
  • Toolkits. Find a software tool for digital rights management.
  • Digital Asset Management. Beyond protection of third-party licensed software, every business needs to track and protect the intellectual property and competitive advantages of software developed by itself, its licensors, and its trading partners. Digital asset management starts with a trade secrets management strategy and assurance of the independence of its innovation team from inadvertent infringement using “Open Source” software or snippets “discovered” on the Internet.
$50 million is a lot of pain.  “Inadvertent” software piracy is not good for business.  The Government’s painful disclosure of such infringement is just a reminder that we each need a compliance program for digital assets