Revulytics Blog

Relying on Anonymous Tipsters to Confront Software Piracy?

August 19, 2009

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Ars Technica has an interesting article about a company accused of software piracy that has sued the anonymous tipster claiming defamation. The DC Court of Appeals has allowed the case to proceed with instructions to the trial judge on the guidelines to apply when determining whether to reveal the identity of the anonymous tipster. The case highlights the importance of vetting sources and having solid evidence before pursuing businesses using pirated software.

"The case started with an anonymous complaint submitted to the Software & Information Industry Association, which (much like the Business Software Alliance), allows anyone to finger institutions for using pirated software. In this case, the person who submitted the complaint suggested that a company that makes software for the Defense Department, Solers, Inc., was engaged in piracy. The SIIA sent Solers a threatening letter, suggesting it undertake an audit of its compliance and return the results.

Solers argued that it was in compliance, and requested the identity of the John Doe who had turned it in. When the SIIA declined to identify him, the company filed a complaint, alleging that the anonymous tip amounted to defamation, and that it interfered with the company's ability to do business. As part of the suit, Solers subpoenaed the SIIA, demanding it turn over all the information it had on John Doe. The SIIA went to court in an attempt to quash the subpoena. The presiding judge agreed, but Solers appealed, leading to the current decision.

...

In short, the plaintiff [Solers] has to provide evidence that its claims are reasonable and the identity of the defendant [the anonymous tipster] is needed before the suit could continue. The defendant should also be given the opportunity to attempt to block his or her unmasking in court."

This is a great example of one of the big challenges that ISVs have when trying to recover revenue from businesses using their software without paying for it. In many cases, ISVs rely on someone to "drop a dime" and report the infringement. After that, there is a request/demand/court order for a software license audit that the accused infringing business often challenges (as happened in the Solers case).

Beyond the additional time and steps required to address these challenges, the accused business will likely challenge the motives of the tipster (especially if it is a "disgruntled ex-employee"), distracting attention from the underlying claims and issues at hand. Interestingly, Ars Technica used a picture of the mask from "V for Vendetta" to illustrate its article.

It seems like a better solution for ISVs (and the SIIA and BSA) is to have evidence of infringement before confronting or accusing a business of using its software illegally. Faced with detailed data showing actual and continued use of unlicensed applications, the accused business loses its ability to delay and distract by shifting the focus to the anonymous tipster.

That is the benefit of piracy business intelligence - it's automatic software auditing that lets the ISVs know when their applications are being used unlicensed and who is using them.

- Michael

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Michael Goff

Post written by Michael Goff

Marketing Director at Revulytics
Michael is Marketing Director at Revulytics where he is responsible for corporate marketing, content, and social media. He has helped to educate the industry on the benefits of software usage analytics for compliance and product management through the company's blog and contributed articles in trade publications. Michael was previously a marketing programs manager at The MathWorks and principal at Goff Communications. Michael earned a J.D. from Boston University School of Law and a B.A. from Colgate University.