This post was originally published in October, 2006. References to current versions include Windows and Office XP, as those were the current versions at the time. The only corrections I made were to spacing and no other changes have been made. Unfortunately as I discovered this week it is still relevant. –M
Software Piracy Hurts Us All.
This week I encountered a phenomenon that I thought was part of our past. Believe me I did not wax nostalgic for the good old days.
I remember in a bygone era it was not uncommon for consultants to install all sorts of software for free… not shareware or freeware mind you, I mean Windows and Office and other programs that software companies spend untold millions developing. PhotoShop? No problem. DreamWeaver? Take it. I am proud to say that we as IT Professionals have come a long way towards full legitimacy, even if it is because software companies forced it with software activation and such.
Early last week the owner of a computer firm called me and asked me to help with a client’s server. I agreed to visit the client Friday afternoon. Right away I was suspicious of a number of things – had I given it more thought I would have realized the computer (it was a clone workstation) was new but the OS was Windows 2000 Server. It wasn`t until I needed the CD that the alarm bells went off – the client handed me a copied CD with a license key written on it.
I will not bore you with the details but within a few minutes I had established that the client had not purchased the OS, and that the company that sold the system just put it on for them. I sat down with the client and explained to him the importance of purchasing the legitimate software, the consequences of not doing so, and why I would not be able to work on his system until it was legitimate.
When I spoke with the man who sold the system to him he admitted what he did and explained why he did it, and asked me to just work on the system quietly without paperwork and he would pay me under the table.
Honestly I was at a loss for words about the entire incident. I could hardly fathom that this practice was still going on. Maybe it is my position with Microsoft and the IT Professional community that shelters me from these things, but I honestly did not think it still happened.
As president of the Montreal IT Professionals Community it is my responsibility to represent the legitimate IT Pros and support their best interests. Does a company like this qualify? If I thought I could educate them then I would but this is not the first time that this company’s piracy has come to light and I honestly felt that talking and threats would result in him saying ‘Ok, you caught me this once, so I will buy the client a legit license and won’t call you again so you won’t catch me again.’ That will be beneficial to nobody – not him, not his client (current or future) and will certainly continue to hurt the legitimate IT Pros in Montreal.
I am not naive enough to believe that every copy of Windows or Office XP in circulation is legit. I know that a lot of home users are not as concerned about security patches and do not want to pay (or cannot afford) the price of the software and although I do not agree with the practice I know it happens. But for a corporation whose primary concern is security (the initial call was regarding L2TP VPN tunnelling) to accept it surprised me. That a company in this day and age would recommend piracy to their clients and then install illegal server software for them absolutely astounds me.
Software piracy hurts us all. It is not a harmless or victimless crime, it is theft that costs the software industry billions of dollars each year. Please do not tell me that they are rich enough, or they somehow deserve it, or (my favourite) that they are not losing anything because the people who pirate would not buy the software anyhow. If you would not go into a bank and steal money because they are too rich, or if you would not steal a car from Ferrari because they deserve it, or if you would not sneak onto an airplane for a free trip to Paris because the plane is flying anyways then how can you possibly justify taking software that you did not pay for?
Let’s look at the unfair advantage that anyone who pirates software has: As an IT Professional I charge relatively high rates for my service. I have spent an inordinate amount of money on my education and countless hours gaining the experience that makes my advice and service worth what I charge. I covet my certifications and would do nothing to risk them. So assuming hardware costs are the same (I would never recommend a clone workstation as a server) and service rates are the same (they are not ) then on a server with 10 CALs I am about twenty-five hundred dollars more expensive out of the gate. Of course I know the difference but if a slick-talking salesman convinces a client that what they get is the same then who would rather pay the extra money?
The unfortunate situation is that there a a lot more that companies like Microsoft can do to punish the legitimate IT Pro than the illegitimate guys. If I were to have worked on that server knowing that it was pirated the consequence is being stripped of my certs, as well as my right to sit any Microsoft exam in the future. That is akin to being stripped of my ability to earn a living in my chosen field. I do not consider that to be too harsh because it is a violation of a code of honour. Illegitimate consultants do not run the same risk because they usually do not bother to get certified anyways.
So what consequences would a company like that face? I honestly do not know but am curious to find out. Of course the first consequence is that there is one more person on the planet who dislikes me. As for what Microsoft can really do in a case like this? I don’t know. Stay tuned! In the meantime have a great week-end!