Why is license compliance so %$#$% hard?

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Dear Business Software Alliance Board,

We understand what you've been trying to do -- honest, we really do. You want to stop the bad boys out there from ripping your members off. You want to make sure that companies aren't pirating your members' software and are complying with the license terms. That's all great except … except that you and your members have made it not just difficult but %$#$@$ impossible to be in compliance.

Here's the problem: Software licenses are written by lawyers. These licenses are intended to protect the software publisher's intellectual property rights, define and limit liability and protect the publisher's revenue stream. Great.

But when software licenses are as fiendishly elaborate and complex as most of them are, keeping an enterprise in compliance when dealing with possibly tens of thousands of terms across thousands of licenses from hundreds of publishers is Mission ^%#$%$# Impossible.

What makes it so unmanageable is that every publisher uses their own language to define what they want us to agree to and then many of them add to that complexity with clauses stating that they can change the terms at any time they please! That's like getting a driving license and knowing that at any time a cop can pull you over and ticket you for a violation you couldn't possibly know about.

An example of this craziness is Microsoft's "Product Use Rights Universal License Terms" for volume licensing of Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise (a 14,000 word document), which states, "Despite the terms of your volume license agreement, we may modify or discontinue the above use rights at any time."

We'd love to be able to point you to this document but Microsoft's Web volume licensing site is designed so that we can't.  Doesn't that tell you something about the company's thinking about licensing?

There's an undeniable insanity to the tsunami of license legality we wade through and it's not just an issue with Microsoft; most large software vendors do much the same thing. And supporting this whole mess is your organization, the Business Software Alliance, a nonprofit trade association that represents about 80% of the software industry worldwide.

For 20 years the BSA has been attempting to reduce software piracy through education and enforcement programs, but there's a really big problem with how you've gone about it because the result has been a monumental FAIL.  You have been claiming continuously for the last 10 years that the piracy rate has been around 20%, which implies that your efforts had no effect. Either you are ineffective and making no progress or you're not telling the truth.

Anyway, our big problem is that you, the BSA, have done nothing to make compliance even remotely easy. For all us down at the pointy end, compliance is a nightmare. We, the good guys, dedicate ridiculous amounts of time to running audits and we are frankly sick of it.

So, BSA Board, we, the companies that use your members' software, challenge you to fix this. We don't need any more ^%@#$% "education and enforcement" programs; we need solutions that make compliance simple, practical and cheap. We need to make compliance brain dead simple so we can get on with what should be our focus: Our businesses. If you don't, well, open source with understandable licenses will just look better and better.

Thank you in advance. Yours sincerely, American Businesses.

PS. See "Software Licenses Need to Be Simplified". 

Gibbs is compliant in Ventura, Calif. Take this as your license to comment to backspin@gibbs.com.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Why is license compliance so %$#$% hard?" was originally published by Network World.

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