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The Recipe for Licensing Compliance

In abstract terms, it's really quite simple to stay in compliance with software licensing requirements. In fact, you only need to know three basic things to do this job:

  • Maintain an inventory of all software programs and operating systems in use.

  • Understand the vendors' requirements to maintain the proper ratio of number of copies in use to number of licenses paid for.

  • Maintain records to be able to prove that all copies in use were purchased legitimately, and that all licenses are current and paid-up.

In reality, measuring compliance is what you might call an interesting job, because it requires more infrastructure than immediately meets the eye. That's why the BSA recommends (and we endorse) the following policies:

  • Standardize software selection as much as possible. Limiting options may control diversity, but it also helps to reduce the complexities involved in tracking numerous (and different) licenses for multiple types of word processors, text editors, Web authoring tools, and whatever other elements are part of standard desktop environments.

  • Centralize software purchasing as much as possible. Keeping track of licenses and related payments is the essence of compliance; by centralizing these functions you'll greatly improve the odds that you can not only demonstrate you're in compliance, but prove it with the necessary paperwork and receipts. At the same time, you should also promote policies, for example, that indicate individual software purchases will not be reimbursed on employee expense reports, and that unauthorized software even if legitimately purchased and licensed may be removed from company machines at the company's discretion.

  • Limit cowboy or random software use. The Internet makes it way too easy for users to download, install, and use software that may or may not be legitimate. Companies and organizations should publish lists of authorized software, and prohibit installation of unlisted items except upon receipt of written approval from an authorized manager. Such managers should also be trained to "just say no" except in cases of dire emergency.

  • Publish a software licensing policy. The reason why modern software forces you to click the "accept" button before it installs is to obtain your legal consent to abide by the terms and conditions of the software's related license. By doing so, you're agreeing to be liable if found in violation of such licenses, among many other things. Employees must be informed that software piracy is a crime, and the consequences of such behavior clearly spelled out, including suspension and loss of pay, or outright termination and loss of employment, depending on the gravity of the offense.

  • Establish a climate of 100 percent compliance. On the plus side, make sure that employees understand that adhering to software licenses is not only a legal necessity, but also represents moral and ethical behavior. By raising employee consciousness about compliance, you create an environment where anyone who wants more software for their machine knows they have to go through the proper channels to obtain a legitimately licensed copy.

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