Aren't you supposed to be truthful when you promote business ethics?

I have no desire to be lumped into the general category of mindless BSA bashers, but I can't let these guys get away with this stuff unchallenged.

Okay, let's back up a minute. The Business Software Alliance is a fine organisation doing some fine work. It was a dandy idea for the likes of Microsoft, Lotus Development, Novell, Symantec, Adobe Systems and Autodesk to band together to form a non-profit organisation to combat software piracy. Software piracy in any form is harmful to this industry and is simply wrong. So any coordinated, concerted effort to fight it is to be commended.

The BSA has ruffled a lot of feathers over the years, but there's certainly nothing wrong with that. This publication has ruffled a lot of feathers, too, so far be it from me to fault anyone in that regard. If you need to stir things up a bit to get people's attention and to fix what needs fixing, I say go for it.

But all that said, a recent piracy case in Hong Kong brings into question the legitimacy of the BSA as a promoter of ethical business practices. Because in order to be a legitimate promoter of ethical business practices, you have to be a staunch observer of ethical business practices. In other words, you need to practice what you preach.

The case involves Team Concepts, a Hong Kong manufacturer and exporter of electronic devices that was caught red-handed earlier this year using illegal copies of software after the BSA received a tip on that hotline it set up that enables disgruntled employees to burn the boss and get $HK15,000 ($US1,940) for a trip to Phuket in the process (not that I have any problem with the hotline, mind you).

Bear in mind that I'm not defending Team Concepts' use of unauthorised copies of software. Shame on them. They screwed up, and they knew it, and they knew they had to pay the price. And they were given a choice by the BSA fork over $HK1.5 million or be prepared to battle it out in court.

The $HK1.5 million figure, incidentally, is kind of interesting. Half of it was supposed to cover the losses sustained by the software vendors whose software was used illegally, based on some mystical formula that nobody really seems to understand. My guess is it was pretty much a figure plucked out of thin air, but of course I don't know. The other $HK750,000 went toward purchasing new software from BSA members Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft and Symantec.

If you ask me, fairness and ethical business practices dictate that that should have been the end of it. The company screwed up and it paid through the nose to make amends. But for some reason that still wasn't enough for the BSA, which decided to compel Team Concepts to publicly humiliate itself as part of the BSA's ongoing media campaign.

The BSA is using its well-oiled PR machine to parade Team Concepts around in public as a repentant sinner, who with bowed head is preaching the BSA message and extolling other companies not to follow its errant path.

I found it particularly distasteful when they trotted out Kitty Li, Team Concepts' MIS manager, to grovel.

In a press release issued earlier this month, the BSA quoted Ms Li directly. Among the statements attributed to her: "We strongly support the BSA in its efforts against software piracy in the workplace, and think that it is in the interest of individual companies and Hong Kong at large for all companies to stop using pirated software." And the equally dramatic, "We strongly urge other companies in Hong Kong who may be using illegal software to act now and legalise their software."

If that sounds troubling to you -- like Ms. Li was thrown into Re-education Camp No. 4 and then hauled out to sign a forced confession and self-criticism -- don't worry. Ms. Li never really said any of that. That's the way these things work (not that I have any problem with the way PR people work, mind you). When public relations people decide what they want you to read, they write it up and then scurry around to find someone to attribute the quote to. In this case, they wrote up this supposed plea and got Team Concepts' management to agree to attribute it to Ms. Li.

What we have, then, is the BSA putting words in Ms. Li's mouth, albeit with the approval of Team Concepts' intimidated management. We have a BSA document (the press release) which makes a false claim -- that Ms. Li made certain statements when in fact she did not. I don't have a problem when vendors use their PR agencies to do this -- when they get the PR people to create quotes and attribute them to some idiot marketing manager who can't speak for himself. But a case like this seems different. If Ms. Li did not utter or write those words on her own accord, then the BSA had no business putting quotation marks around them and putting her name on them in an effort to further its own aims.

So the question begging to be asked is what's worse -- using unauthorised copies of software or making false statements on a document used to disseminate information to the public. If you ask me, they're both wrong. The only difference is nobody's going to pay some anonymous caller $HK15,000 to force the BSA to account for its actions.

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Don Tennant

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