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Dumped Workers Find Revenge
By Michelle Delio

2:00 a.m. July 3, 2001 PDT

Some disgruntled, recently laid-off geeks are taking a break from frantically scanning the want ads to file software piracy reports against their ex-employers.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA), an international organization that investigates program piracy for software developers, has noted a dramatic increase in the past year in the number of reports filed by ex-employees against technology companies.


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"It stands to reason that employees who have been let go have more motivation to call us," said Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance. "So the increase in the amount of calls we are getting is almost certainly a result of layoffs in the technology sector."

And there are a lot of employers using illegally obtained programs to report. At least one out of every three software applications installed on computers around the world is pirated, according to a study released last month by the BSA.

BSA records indicate that many of the people who file piracy reports are systems administrators, programmers and other computer-savvy employees who were working in tech companies.

But Kruger said that all companies should realize that they are "only one disgruntled employee away from a full-blown BSA investigation."

Most reports to BSA come in over the company's hotline, Kruger said. Reports can also be made online at BSA's website, but BSA prefers to talk directly to people who are filing the report.

"We want to make sure we aren't dealing with someone who has an ax to grind and is filing a false report just to cause trouble. Our operators are very good at this, they know how to assess a caller's credibility, and they know what questions to ask," Kruger said.

"But just because someone is disgruntled doesn't mean they don't know what they are talking about. Angry ex-employees have supplied us with some incredibly detailed and accurate information about their former employers," Kruger added.

Once a report comes in, BSA corroborates the information, usually by calling the software company whose programs have allegedly been pirated. The investigator asks the software company to check its database to see if registration information gibes with the report.

If the initial investigation proves fruitful, BSA usually turns the case over to lawyers who try to settle out of court with the company.

But if a company refuses to cooperate, BSA can and will ask a federal judge to grant a court order allowing BSA investigators to visit the accused company unannounced and accompanied by local law enforcement officials such as U.S Marshals.

Kruger prefers this "bolt-from-the-blue" method, which allows BSA to perform its own audit to see exactly what software is installed on the company's network.

"It's certainly a rude surprise but it guarantees we'll get accurate information," Kruger said.

Those court orders are difficult to get, because many who report software piracy don't want to be identified. Without a complainant who is willing to sign an affidavit, it's hard to convince a judge to sign the order, Kruger said.

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