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I started to work at a company as an engineer a couple of months ago. It's a small company and what they basically do is answering service on phones. Now they are switching from normal phones to IP phones so that computers take more important place in the work.

However, all the computers used by workers are equipped with pirated software, including their operating systems. Moreover, they didn't even buy one license to make copies for other computers. In other words, they did not spend any money for the software in office. I am not saying copying a licensed one is legit, but the situation is too much.

There is one guy who installed the pirated software. He does not feel any sense of guilt and even justified when I asked about it. He is not even a specialist. He just searched on the internet to install pirated software. Our boss does not have any knowledge of computers, so he took the cheaper way.

What do you think about this? Since I am still new to the company, I am not doing maintenance on those cracked computers. But I have to use those software daily. And later on I will be doing support, help desk kind of stuff. I really don't want to take responsibility for operating pirated software. From an aspect of developer and engineer, pirated software is not able to get legal support and it may work unexpectedly. So, I am thinking about changing jobs.

Am I thinking too much? Should I wait until I have more credibility with the boss and try to change his policy? So far, the boss does not take any words from me. Any opinions are welcome. Thank you

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@Pierre - How does that matter? If the company doesn't make any money, it's ok for them to steal? –  Walter Dec 31 '10 at 14:16
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@Pierre - Profits have no bearing on ethics. Stealing software is stealing software, whether you make a millon dollars (or euros) or zero. –  Walter Dec 31 '10 at 14:24
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@Walter: I agree with your statement. But since it doesn't hurt me that someone that (really) can't afford my software, I don't care. Even with 100% protection he wouldn't have bought it anyway (no loss of profit). If I was selling apples and 1% of them were stolen, that would be another story. –  user2567 Dec 31 '10 at 14:27
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@Peirre - that's your choice on your software. My guess is that they're not using your software AND that they didn't ask permission to use that software for free. Theft is theft, whether it is physical or intellectual. –  Walter Dec 31 '10 at 14:38
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@Walter, piracy or more formally intellectual property infringement is not the same as theft, in that it involves (typically) unauthorized (& unlicensed) duplication of a work (in copyright). The original copyright owner (holder) is not deprived of their copy (i.e. the item), but is deprived of the lost opportunity of income. I am not condoning or supporting piracy, but intellectual property (IP) is a complex environment, so please avoid emotionally loaded words or phrases. –  mctylr Dec 31 '10 at 18:47

12 Answers 12

You need to find another job.

If this company finds it this easy to compromise ethical principles so blatantly when it comes to software, how can you trust them to do the right thing under any circumstances? What is going to happen when you are in a situation where you require honesty from them, or the capacity to follow ethical principles of any kind in their dealings with you?

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Ethics differ when it comes to software and real life. May be a person cracks software. But in real life he might be very honest. But about companies that use pirated software is different from this. –  kadaj Dec 31 '10 at 7:32
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@jase21, Maybe your definition of ethics differs from mine, but when it comes to human behaviour software has no exceptional status - dishonest behaviour takes place in all aspects of life given the mindset for it. –  rsp Dec 31 '10 at 10:06
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@rsp - there was a time when burglary of peoples homes was considered very different to burglary of business premises. It isn't an "exceptional status" thing so much as perception of how personally significant the consequences are. Doesn't make that much sense either way, of course - a business going bankrupt because the stock was stolen will have very personally significant consequences to the owner and his family. Even the "should be insured" excuse takes no account of the effect of crimes (and particularly local crime levels) on insurance costs. –  Steve314 Dec 31 '10 at 11:53
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@jase21: Newsflash: although you can't drop software on your foot, it does not inhabit an alternate reality. While this may be a shock to you, IT'S ALL REAL. –  Piskvor Feb 3 '11 at 14:14
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@rsp the only ones who aren't dishonest are fools and children –  electron_avalanche Apr 24 '12 at 17:36

I agree with the answer by Robert Harvey. Search for another job.

Not because you don't trust them. But for another obvious reason. One day they will be caught using pirated software for thousands of dollars. And they will be forced, by a judge, to pay those thousands of dollars. A case like this may force this company to liquidation, if they don't have enough money to pay the fees, and probably they don't.

It's not very encouraging to work for a company which will be in a case like this soon or later.

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There are excellent open source options available today, whether for operating systems or word processing software. –  Programming Enthusiast Dec 31 '10 at 9:40
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@Jon: What's that got to do with anything? That free software exists doesn't excuse a company for not paying for software that's not free. –  Dean Harding Dec 31 '10 at 10:53
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@Dean: I was trying to suggest that free software options exist, and companies don't have to resort to piracy to cut costs. And I fully agree with your statement. –  Programming Enthusiast Dec 31 '10 at 16:18
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+1 The biggest thing is that if that happens, you're going to have the stigma of having worked for that company. Think about someone who tries to apply for a business job that worked for Enron during the big scandal. Regardless of if you did anything wrong, it will raise eyebrows of every interviewer you face in the future that heard about the incident. –  Ryan Hayes Dec 31 '10 at 18:16

Search for free/open source alternatives.

If you can't get them to understand that what they are doing is illegal, search for another job.

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So it's a software company that believes people don't need to pay for software? I wonder how they sell anything...

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By selling support obviously. Arguably it's a business model to give away a horrible product that needs support to function, and then charger for support. –  Philip Dec 15 '11 at 17:17

It should be offensive to you as a programmer to work for a company that obviously doesn't value the type of work you produce enough to pay for it and acts so unethically.

The Business Software Alliance has a program where you can report employers who are doing this and the whistle-blower can get a cash reward of up to a million dollars.

If you aren't feeling vindictive enough to report them. You might consider "Accidentally" leaving a printout of the reporting form or the above linked article on the printer one day.

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Realistically, you probably want to have a conversation with the boss about this. The last thing you want is to be accused of knowing about the pirated software and not doing anything about it. So, try and find a way to chat to the boss, and educate him about what's going on, and the policy that is implicitly in operation.

If the response is that he's fine with the use of pirated software, you've done your job. The only thing remaining is to decide whether it bothers you sufficiently for you to leave.

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My guess is the boss doesn't care and when the OP whistleblows or leaves the company, the boss is going to know why and who it was. –  staticx Nov 14 '12 at 19:27

I live and work in Canada, and am writing from a North American perspective, though it applies pretty much to most "Western" countries.

In places like Canada, the boss may well want to know if they do not, as the legal liability of having unlicensed software on their systems does not make good financial sense. The potential cost of legal action, civil and criminal damages are too high compared the suitable licensing of commercial software. Most software companies offer pricing plans to fit the size of the business customers, for example Microsoft offers several pricing / licensing models, beyond the retail pricing for their software per single unit.

You can likely find articles in national IT Management / computing news magazines or websites (e.g. Info World, Computer Weekly, Datamation) about the cost of being caught with pirated software that shows it can be very expensive to not license software.

First speak with whoever you normally report to (i.e your manager or supervisor) about your concerns, since you are not familiar or comfortable talking directly to the boss of the company. If they are an IT Manager they may / should follow-up the issue themselves. If the company has an in-house lawyer, they may also be a suitable person to speak to instead of the boss if you prefer.

I also agree with the sentiment that if the business' corporate culture is rife with doing illegal things if it saves money, then you may be at risk of experiencing illegal labour practices (ignoring minimum wage laws, not getting paid for national holidays, forced overtime) at work as well.

In my own experiences and observations, companies that cannot make a profit by operating legally, are both a terrible place to work, and are also prone to failure as they tend to be poorly run businesses as well. This is not just a "Western" view any more, countries like China are starting to crack down on intellectual property (IP) violations, because to continue to be successful globally, they need other countries to trust them with increasingly valuable IP, and additionally it is necessary so Chinese companies can successfully produce and sell their own IP products such as software.

I strongly recommend you hunt for a new job, and after you start your new job, feel free to report them to the BSA or national / regional police. Finally, for your own well-being, in my opinion, it is a lot easier to maintain job satisfaction if you respect your employer, and good employers appreciate employees who strive to be ethical.

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What country is the company located in? Different places have different cultural and ethical expectations vis-a-vis purchasing software. Prices are not tied to local economic values but rather to global ones, making the proposition of using 100% bought software quite rare in certain places.

If you're located someplace where this practice is normal, you'd have to change countries rather than jobs. Though there may be employers that do pay for software, they could be few and far between. Obviously if you're in the United States, blatant piracy would be a huge red flag (basing this on my own work experience here and other people's comments). In countries where MS Windows costs 10 times as much -- calculating the price in beers at a local pub, or whatever fixed unit you want (haircuts! bread!) -- blatant piracy can be a much more "normal" practice unless there is heavy regulation AND ENFORCEMENT.

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It's actually located in the U.S. but I think the culture of country does not matter. –  hakesh Dec 31 '10 at 20:58
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@hakesh, all thoughts are not equal, especially those that have no argument to go with them. –  Yar Jan 1 '11 at 20:40

If you don't contact some authority and report this, you are as guilty as they are. You don't even have to give your name. You obviously know this is wrong.

If you're an open source advocate, get your company to switch.

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You, as an individual, must be the one who decides if something is ethical or not. But keep in mind that it might not just be about the kind of work that you do, or getting support, or things working/not working as intended. It's about being able to go home at the end of the day and sleep at night.

However, the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice provides some rather clear guidance:

Software engineers shall act in a manner that is in the best interests of their client and employer, consistent with the public interest. In particular, software engineers shall, as appropriate:

2.02. Not knowingly use software that is obtained or retained either illegally or unethically.

Personally, I'd not only quit, but I'd turn them in to the appropriate authorities as well.

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Using pirated software is against law. But how an individual feels about using it is entirely depended on that person.
Why not go for free software, if you can't pay for it?
How would you feel about using your product by another company without paying you? The same applies.
(But truth be told most of the reverse engineering crackers out there doesn't give a s*** about your commercial software).

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A company with no scruples about using pirate software is unlikely to switch to free alternatives unless some specific problem (e.g. a warning from a copyright organisation) arises. If nothing else, change in itself involves costs. –  Steve314 Dec 31 '10 at 11:57
    
Yes, that might be right. But I was speaking about an individual. –  kadaj Dec 31 '10 at 12:51

I would and have raised issues like this. I don't think quitting is the answer, its not helping the situation.

Best thing to do is to educate. There are free alternatives to practically every software out there.

Raise the point that you feel uncomfortable working with pirate software at a regular basis and highlight the alternatives. Start with Office being swapped for LibreOffice, highlight the penalties for getting caught, plus keep it casual, non-threatening and non-judgemental over anybody already in the organisation.

The other thing is to lead by example and switch as much as you can on your computer as a proof of concept.

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