Business coalition urges state to lead effort against software piracy

A coalition of businesses and software and hardware providers are calling on the state of California to take a lead role in fighting illegal software use, starting with agencies and their contractors. In a report recently issued by the Orange County Business Council which outlines the impact of software piracy in California, the American Jobs Alliance (AJA) singled out state government as a starting point to fight the theft of software.

Curtis W. Ellis, communications director for AJA, part of the group behind the study, said in the announcement "[w]hile progress is being made at the federal level to address unfair competition, our coalition encourages the State of California to take the lead by requiring state agencies to use only legal software on their computers and ensure their contractors do not use stolen software."

The report, entitled the Economic Consequences of Software Piracy on California was authored by Wallace Walrod, chief economic adviser to the Orange County Business Council. Waldrod finds that California workers lost $1.1 billion in lost wages due to software piracy in 2011 and $1.66 billion in economic activity. California lost nearly 20,000 jobs, and $697.6 million in state and local tax revenue in 2011, said the study which looks at trends across the private and public technology sectors.

In state government, the issue boils down to enforcing existing rules to prevent pirated or unlicensed software from being used. It’s a matter of how compliant departments are, according to various department CIOs and current and former state technology executives. State Administrative Manual Section 4846 says that departments are required have a Software Management Plan that includes a system to ensure all software purchased with state funds is legally procured and properly licensed. The policy also requires staff to maintain a baseline inventory of all approved software used by the department.

State technology leaders admit that proper software licensing remains an issue if departments are not continually surveying their computer assets. The Department of Motor Vehicles, with one of the state’s largest IT programs, routinely scans its complete IT environment of more than 5,000 pcs and 4,500 thin clients. Department CIO Bernard Soriano says he does find issues that need to be addressed, for owning too few or in some cases too many licenses. Overall his department does a good job of keeping track of software licenses, he says. "We do this process not just once a year but we do it throughout the year so that we continually monitor whether or not we are out of compliance and we’re pretty diligent about it. That’s why we feel, while it is tedious, we feel that it’s necessary because of the liability we would have if we are out of compliance," said Soriano.

Concerns about the state complying with copyright laws date back to at least 1999 when Governor Gray Davis issued an executive order calling for the state “to ensure that its own practices as a purchaser and user of computer software are beyond reproach.” The order required, among other things, the Department of General Services to include standard language in state contracts to prevent unlicensed software from being used on state systems or by state contractors.

Bill Maile was editor of Techwire from 2011 to 2016.