Ask LH: Should I Dob In My Workplace For Using Pirate Software?

Dear Lifehacker, At my workplace all the software is pirated. I find it frustrating that my boss (who it quite wealthy) insists on us using illegal software. I have tried bringing it up but he just laughs and it has become a big joke in the office. I am not sure what to do. Any advice? Thanks, Justice Thwarted

Picture by Frank Kovalchek: This kind of piracy is not illegal

Dear JT,

Your boss sounds utterly charmless. If he doesn't want to pay for software, there are free alternatives in lots of categories. But if he chooses to use commercial software, he should be prepared to pay the costs.

Clearly he's not going to change his behaviour based on your experience so far, so that only leaves one realistic option in terms of solving the problem: reporting him. Understandably, you might be reluctant to do that, especially if you're concerned about being identified as the source of the report. But the only other alternatives are to ignore it and remain frustrated (a bad idea for your job satisfaction) or to hunt for another position. If that's an option, I'd look into it anyway; a boss who is cavalier about other people's livelihoods isn't going to be a great long-term employer anyway.

If you do decide you want to report him (whether you're staying in the job or not), you can do so through the Business Software Alliance, either via an online form or by phoning the organisation on 1800 021 143. All information is kept confidential; you won't be identified as the source of the report. If major piracy is detected, you could also be eligible for a large reward (up to $20,000 at the moment). That said, your motivation shouldn't be the reward; it should be making sure that your boss does the right thing.

Before all the commenters explode, I don't see that this has anything to do with the fact that Australian prices for software are frequently a rip-off. Yes, that's a rubbish situation and should be changed. But if a given software package is essential to a business, then the cost of that has to be factored into the business plan. It's as simple as that

If readers have been in a similar situation and want to share more advice or tactics, we'd love to hear it in the comments

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Dude needs to find another employer.
    If he's skimping on software, I hate to think what his thoughts are on correct salaries, super, insurance and anything else.
    I'd secure another position and then cowardly report him :-)

      Agree. The guy's flippant and cavalier attitude to it is pretty concerning.

    Not sure what your job is or how big your organisation is, but I'd report him, but make it look like someone else did. If you frequently have visitors on-site, make it look like the delivery boy dobbed them in or something. If it's a small business, perhaps try and organise an "out of the blue" inspection (that is, have the BSA not mention that they were tipped off)

    If he suspects it was you and fires you, you can sue for unfair dismissal, as you were doing what you believed is right. You may not get your job back, but you may get compensated.

      This is a good tip... Get a contractor or customer to point it out loudly, whilst he's in earshot...
      Then dob him in.
      Alternatively, if there's a good Free/Open Source alternative, propose that to him.

    Ask that you want to speak to him in private. Go to his office in a serious manner and give him a well reasoned argument about why he should use legal software.

    If he continues his flippant attitude, politely say that "you will be forced to report him".
    He will have no choice but to oblige, and if he doesn't you can happily take that $20,000 reward guilt free.

    This is the respectful thing to do.

    Safest thing to do is to find a new job and then report him, but this of course isn't very gentlemanly.

    Agree with LH's answer, though if you're amenable to moving jobs, perhaps you could consider looking elsewhere at the same time. Could be win-win-win for you: a new and better job, a cash reward, and pleasant dose of Schadenfreude should your old boss go down.

    I worked for a place like that once, only half the place was licensed. After repeated attempts to go legit, showing the CEO the possible fines, etc., they did nothing. So I stayed back one night and replaced the dodgy office with Open Office. By the end of the week they were so frustrated they paid for new MS Office licenses.

    Curious to know whether reporting the issue to BSA gives you immunity if you installed the software (at your employer's prompting or otherwise). I could install whatever software I wanted at my previous job and I was just an analyst, not in IT.

    Also, BSA only acts if the pirated software belongs to one of its members I believe.

      Lifehacker, this is a very good question. If you let your employer know that you are under licensed and they tell you to continue with the install anyway, what are the legal ramifications for the employee following directions of an employerer. It is a extreme example if you were asked by your employer to rob a bank and you do it after making your objection clear you would both be guilty. would this 'test' apply to software?

      I would like lifehacker to investigate this question....

    Let ye who has not sinned, throw the fist stone....

      Its a bit different when you're talking a commercial venture...

      what about the backhand stone? or the finger stone?

    turn the grub in. Stealing software is poor form.

    Like some previous commentors noted, CHECK YOUR SUPER

    In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow "The deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers".

    My old job ended badly and some months after being let go (always good to wait a bit) I let a well-known software company know that my employer was using pirated software. I don't regret telling on them. I know it got my employer in a stack of trouble. Financially too. Karma is a bitch.

    I can't decide what's worse. Copyright infringement or being a nark.

    Tell him that you'll rat him out to his face if he doesn't change his ways. Sure you'll get fired, but you can't stand working for him and I'm sure if he knew you were going behind his back he wouldn't be able to stand you either.


    I don't know why you care. Are you the kind of person who would get angry at... say one illegally downloaded song? I know the situation is different but the principles are the same.

    Should he? Well people did make the product and they are technically entitled to their money but when the sum of cash needed to buy these things are more than ridiculous than I can see where he might be right in laughing it off.

    You might say he's wealthy but we really don't know how wealthy, we really don't know how many software packages he's going to need to buy and we don't know if that would kill his business for weeks or months or forever if he were to actually do it. He might have kids to care for, a dying wife for all we know and he, and the people you work with, let's not forget them too. They need their cash, which is tantamount.

    What about the creators? Well in my opinion its not stealing in the average sense, since nothing is being taken off the shelves, your boss may have not even bought it regardless, so in a sense its not hurting anyone.

      It's a frequent argument for pirating that as you're not actually removing a product from it's owner without payment, only taking a copy, but it's not really correct. When you pirate something, you are still taking revenue away from the company that developed the software, as you are not longer a potential buyer. Sure if only a couple of people do it, it won't have a big impact, but widespread pirating means companies lose money, which means they can't pay their employees, so they stop developing new software.

      No one's entitled access to anything created by someone else - if you think the software is too expensive, not worth the cost/unaffordable/any other reason, then you can't have access to that product.

      While most people will overlook some pirating, particularly that of anything in the entertainment category, for a business to do it en masse isn't morally fantastic, considering they're taking money away from the people who developed software that they're going to use to make money.... I suppose it all comes down to personal values, but I wouldn't like to work for a boss that selfish.

        In business its actually worse than this, because it creates an uncompetitive playing field. For example; If two design shows are competing for some work, the company that doesn't pay the Adobe tax every year will be cheaper. Ultimately the fully licensed company will go under and the pirate loving company will not. Before you know it more companies will have gone under and so on. An extreme example, but valid.

          Also, can't business write off the cost (or at least a portion of it) on tax? I'm pretty sure business software is a legitimate expense. So really, there's no excuse for businesses to pirate software. If you're really small or a startup or whatever then you can use open office / bring in your personal laptops with legit licences.

    so if he/company gets busted the fines goes to him/company. i dont see why you need to tell him repeatedly to change the software. dont like working with pirated software/business practices? quit and find another job

    There is definitely a spotters fee, so the person will get rewarded. However, I wouldn't report an employer until a new one is found and secured. Despite whistleblower protection laws, whistleblowers still get a very very rough time. You wouldn't want to be around there if it was disclosed it was you.

    If the person reporting it is in the IT department, he is also partially responsible for the pirated software and could himself get fined a significant amount. Depending on how much the boss rakes in, the IT people could be hit harder than the boss/owner.

    If you wish to report the company, get out of the company first. That's the most important thing. If you don't want to get out of the company, then put up with it as best you can in the meantime and hope to heck nobody else reports it (if you're in the IT department).

      I agree, find another job first so that when your boss is busted you can walk in to his office, tell him it was you and flip him the bird before telling him you already have another job.

    My old boss went half-arsed with a student copy - considering we were a marketing agency, have student copies was just as illegal as having pirated. So stupid.
    I figure, if your workplace revolves around the software and there is money to buy it, it's lame not to.
    That workplace shut down after I left and became just a department of the company that set it up, which is what it should have been to begin with. They're probably still using that student edition of Adobe CS5......

    First, quit.
    Then report the place , and collect the reward.
    Take a decent 20k holiday and look for a new job.
    There is no excuse to be using the software without licensing in business...

    A 3 month holiday for be very nice about now! ;P
    If you don't want to do it, tell me and i will collect the money instead!

    I don't know what your role in the company is, but if ANY part of your job description involved being "responsible" for any part of IT infrastructure, then even if you leave and they are busted by the BSA, they may point the finger at YOU. Get yourself another job and before you leave call these guys:

    Isn't the fine or penalty like $250,000 per offence for a business? So say 10 computers with illegal copies of windows,office and say photoshop would be like 7.5 Million dollars, double that if they count the office apps as separate pieces of software.
    So unless they are a big company it's properly the end of the company. So if you dob them in you will be out of a job and possibly any monies or backpay your employer owes you, not to mention your work-mates will be in the same boat.

    Before you decide on a course of action (and I'm not going to recommend one idea or the other) you might need to consider your colleagues: if the business can't afford the penalties that will be imposed, it might go bust and your colleagues/friends would be out of their jobs, too. Or, your boss might attribute the dob mistakenly to a colleague or friend and give him or her the sack. I'm not condoning the bosses piracy – far from it – I'm just saying you ought to think of the wider picture and consequences for other, innocent, employees.

      Good point Johnno! Going postal always affects others. So the better approach is to confront it:
      1. Find another job and give notice.
      2. Give ex-workmates a heads-up before leaving.
      3. On last day tell boss he has 60/90 days to get properly licensed.
      4. Check with ex-workmates that action did occur.
      5. BSA all the way if not - not cowardly as you did face him on it - and he chose the illegal path!
      6. Alternatively, you may find your new job (and time) have put enough distance in place for you not follow through, protecting your ex-workmates, who by then will definitely know know their boss is a rip-off A*******, and will be leaving themselves.

    One of the companies I used to work for use pirated windows and adobe suite. But one of the guys who worked there installed, the boss didnt really care or even checked if they were legit or not. Whose responsible for that? and im pretty sure the bloke who installed it doesnt work there anymore who it still be the fault of the business of the person who installed it?

    There are a LOT of terms and conditions in that $20k reward - the likelihood of you getting it is fairly small - so don't let the money sway you one way or the other. Also - it's only available if you report them before July 31st 2012 - so tomorrow.

    I think the IT area will cop the majority of the blame for it - they did in my previous role where the boss escaped pretty much clean because "he didn't understand all that IT stuff and trusted his people to do the right thing....". It depends how smart or dumb your boss is - send him an email about it and see if his response incriminates him. If it does - he's dumb. If it doesn't, or he doesn't answer - he's smart and will walk....

    And I agree - don't throw a grenade in there without warning your colleagues/friends - that is just mean.

    Been there! twice!

    First time we were audited by Microsoft and others after our company was bought out, massive amount of cash had to be spent getting everything up to scratch. This was more due to the fact we had no clue what and how things were supposed to be licensed, and had bought wrong licenses for Microsoft and Symantec software. In the end we all learned a lot about what to do about running new server projects, a very good experience.

    The second time was recently, management didn't seem concerned that they were not licensed correctly, I spoke with them several times about what they were doing. In the end I reported them (using the software alliance website) and resigned from the role. I wrote in my resignation that I had friends employed by several of the companies they were, in my opinion, ripping off, and that those friends deserved to be payed for their hard work.

    I understand that some small companies can't afford licensing, but open source software is very good, and very cheap to support/run. I really get angry at companies which in some cases are making millions to billions (and even those making less) that are not properly licensed, if the situation was reversed they wouldn't be happy with people pirating their software.

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