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Would You Install Pirated Software at Work? 848

Posted by Cliff
from the questionable-PHB-ethics dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "I am an IT professional, and due to budget constraints, I have been told to install multiple copies of MS Office, despite offering to install OpenOffice, and other OpenSource Office products. Even though most of the uses are for people using Excel like a database, or formatting of text in cells, other programs are not tolerated. I have been over ruled by our controller, to my disagreement. I would never turn them in, but I am in tough place by knowing doing something illegal. I want to keep my job, but disagree with some of the decision making on this issue. Other than drafting a letter to the owners of the company on how I disagree with the policy, what else can I do?"
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Would You Install Pirated Software at Work?

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  • by AmIAnAi (975049) * on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:52PM (#18978997)
    You must ask yourself: if they're willing to overrule you and insist you commit an illegal act, how are they going to behave should this come to the attention of FAST (or other enforcement body)? My guess is they will dump it all on your shoulders. If they don't play by the rules now, they certainly will not start when their backs are against the wall.

    I suggest you document everything, off site and get your CV circulated immediately.
    • by twitter (104583) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:04PM (#18979263) Homepage Journal

      how are they going to behave should this come to the attention of FAST (or other enforcement body)?

      Why bother to find out?

      Tell them that you are going to Install Open Office or quit. It's not that what they have asked is morally wrong, it's that it exposes YOU to danger for their benefit. Oh yeah, it's also stupid because better software exists and they have "standardized" on the worst. You offered your advice and they discarded it, so it's time to go unless you want to be an bag man.

      By the way, the anonymous reader has already reported them. ISPs already co-operate with media companies and monitors traffic. The chances are they have monitored the post. But it won't matter because someone there will fink sooner or later.

      • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:35PM (#18979803) Homepage

        Oh yeah, it's also stupid because better software exists and they have "standardized" on the worst.
        You aren't saying that OpenOffice is better than MS Office, are you? It's cheaper, it runs on more platforms (which is why I use it on my Linux box for the very few cases where I need Office-type software), but other than that, it's most certainly NOT better.


        I love to bash Microsoft as much as the next guy, probably more in fact, but when I'm looking for examples of great free software, OpenOffice usually isn't one of my first choices. It's slow, buggy and just as bloated as Office is -- if not more so. (AbiWord is better, but still not perfect ...)

        • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:58PM (#18980163)
          It doesn't seem that any of OO.o's shortcomings would affect the company in question. Re-read the summary to see what they can do with an office suite.
        • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:19PM (#18980461) Journal
          The guy's solution is one that does not expose them (or him) to any potential licensing violations, and consequently any lawsuits. Whether or not OpenOffice, or any open source solution, is better, equal or worse is irrelevant. He's offering them a solution that will offer the shallowest learning curve, will likely do most (if not all) of what they want, is cheap (as in free) and is completely legal and above board.

          I would never in a million years expose myself to potential litigation over something like this without a notarized document from my manager protecting me from all blame, and from losing my job if someone comes a'knockin' to check up on licensing violations. Since I doubt anyone's manager has the power to make that deal (unless the manager is an owner), it's going to hit the legal department, and the legal department will probably have a fit, and the whole plan will fall in its ass in a hurry.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by harrkev (623093)
            I could be wrong, but don't organizations like the BSA go after the companies and not the individuals?

            It seems to me that the best thing to do would be to write e-mail to the company bosses and tell them your concerns and your recomendations, and BCC it to a separate e-mail that you control. Then forward the responses. Do what your bosses ask, and if the BSA comes knocking, show them the e-mails.
            • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:28PM (#18980583) Journal
              Except that when it gets to court, you have at least some chance of your employer pointing the finger at you and saying "He installed these without our authorization", and suddenly it's you on the hot seat.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by gregleimbeck (975759)
                Do many of these actually end up in court? From what I understand, after an audit, BSA gives you a reasonable amount of time to gain compliance before you actually get hit with any fees.
              • by Pvt_Waldo (459439) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @08:23PM (#18982037)
                Document, document document - as in keep track of all communications and don't do any of it verbally. If you have verbal communications, email the parties involved with a conversation summary saying, "This is the summary of ourcoversation as I recall it. Please append comments or corrections if you believe them necessary".

                One approach is to ask them to sign an affidavit stating you are doing this because told to, and that all parties recognize the illegality of it. If they fire you as a result of your "attitude", you probably have a case for taking them to court for illegal termination.

                What ever you end up doing though, I'd get out of there ASAP.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by MightyYar (622222)
              Yeah, this isn't a criminal issue - it's civil. If you can show that you were just following orders, that should be enough to Cover Your Ass.

              If they come asking you to duplicate and sell Office CDs, well then that's another matter.

              If you are the vengeful sort, a call to the BSA would be a nice touch.
              • by lhand (30548) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:03PM (#18981143)
                Whow sport!
                Saying my boss tole me to will not protect you.
                In the United States there is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement:
                Title 17-

                Sec. 506. Criminal offenses

                (a) Criminal Infringement.--Any person who infringes a copyright
                willfully either--
                (1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial
                gain, or
                (2) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic
                means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or
                phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total
                retail value of more than $1,000,

                shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, United
                States Code. For purposes of this subsection, evidence of reproduction
                or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be
                sufficient to establish willful infringement.
                The punishment is up to 3 or 5 years and $2500.
      • by avronius (689343) * on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:58PM (#18980159) Homepage Journal
        One e-mail message will do the job nicely.

        To: [e-mail address of manager]
        Bcc: [your personal e-mail address]
        Subject: [Product] installations and license limitations
        Body:
        [name of manager],

        I have reviewed our records and determined that we have x licenses for [product]. There are users that require this product, yet do not currently have it installed, and there are insufficient licenses to meet their needs. Unfortunately, we are not able proceed with installing more copies of this software until new licenses are purchased.

        I am attaching the name of our local [product] vendor, as well as his/her direct number, so that you can obtain additional licensing. When the new licenses arrive, we will happy to proceed with the new installations.

        Alternatively, we would be happy to install an available opensource alternative. There are a handful of products that might be more suitable in this environment, and we are willing to work with the users to ensure the right products for them.

        We are not willing to put this company at risk of litigation or prosecution for software misuse.

        Sincerely,

        [You]
        • The more I think about it, the more the honest choice sounds right. You can't make dishonest people act right. When your boss is not honest, it's time to leave.

          If they are going to fire him for refusing, they will lose the email and lie about that too if anything bad happens. They can also lie about the licenses. The boss will lie to HR and then paper his file as a trouble maker.

          They've asked him to do something they think is wrong. There's no winning in a situation like that.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by KinkoBlast (922676)
            CC it, not blindly, to yourself, your boss, your boss's boss, all the way up the chain... and MS, too, just for the hell of it.

            That ought to make it hard to 'lose'.

            If you're that worried about your job, HR too.
            • by rainman_bc (735332) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:12PM (#18981265)
              CC it, not blindly, to yourself, your boss, your boss's boss, all the way up the chain... and MS, too, just for the hell of it.

              Yeah, as if THAT isn't a career limiting move. Everyone LOVES a snitch.

              First you email them. Maybe you'll even get a noteworthy response you can then keep for a while.

              Seriously, don't snitch as a first resort, use it as a last resort - hell even make an HR issue out of it.
            • by bob_herrick (784633) <bob.herrick@YEATSgmail.com minus poet> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:18PM (#18981319)
              Impractical advice, sorry to say. Sounds like fun, but inivites heavy duty retaliation, and undermines the possiblity of support from above. The upper level CC's will be seen by both your boss and the folks above him/her as a transparent play. The CC will make it look like your mission is to make your boss look bad, which may be true, but it is not the perception you wish to leave. A BCC to self is fine. If you get pushback from the boss, CC'ing his boss on your reply is fine, even with the e-mail chain - but round one CC chain you suggest is going to convert an outcome from which it is possible to emerge with a victory to a sure loss.
              • by pete6677 (681676) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @10:01PM (#18982913)
                You're not doing this to keep your career within the company, you're doing it to buy some time while you search for a job with an ethical firm. Of course an unethical boss will try to get you fired for blowing the whistle. The email is just to cover your ass and possibly have grounds for a wrongful termination suit. Career potential in a company like this is zero unless you can actively aid and abet wrongdoing.
            • by Petrushka (815171) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:52PM (#18981729)
              CCing everyone and their boss is not really a good idea, because it contains an implicit threat. If you act like you're ready to hold something over someone's head, even "just in case", people are going to react as though they've already been threatened.
            • by terjeber (856226) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @09:50PM (#18982835)

              Bad advice. Snitching is a bad thing. You don't have to. The proper, legal, way is the right thing to do. Refuse the request. Don't go above someones head (that is usually a bad idea). If you have an HR department, talk to the HR person. The HR person is in legal hot water if he complains and later get fired for sticking to the law.

              As I said - there is a proper process for this, and it is trivial. He sticks to the law. Refueses all such requests. If they fire him, he sues them. They're not going to fire him. If the organization is of some size, his manager should be in trouble once the HR person gets involved.

        • by bob_herrick (784633) <bob.herrick@YEATSgmail.com minus poet> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:11PM (#18981257)

          Unfortunately, we are not able proceed with installing more copies of this software until new licenses are purchased. [emphasis added]
          It's not that it is unfortunate, it's that it would be illegal. It's not that you are incapable of doing an installation, it's that to do so would break the law. I would rewrite this sentence to reflect the situation, rather than leaving room for 'misinterpretation.' Something like the following is what I have in mind.

          Under the terms of our license with [whomever], it is not legal for us to install more copies unless we purchase additional licenses.

          This serves to put the decision maker on clear notice, and forms the basis for you legitimate refusal if it comes to that.

          Either way this comes out, update your CV and get it launched.
        • by nwbvt (768631) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:32PM (#18981495)

          Even better, cc your vendor and include a line like "I've included John from {insert vendor's name} whom you can contact to purchase additional licenses" (you might also want to touch it up a bit to make it sound like you suspect your boss innocently did not realize the licensing issues). That will essentially force them to abide by your decision, and if they accuse you of snitching on them you can claim you were just trying to make it easier for them to purchase the additional licenses. Plus the vendor may offer a discount to keep you from going down the open source road and you would get the credit for finding it.

          And worst case scenario, if you ever do need a new job, you have a new contact at your vendor who would certainly give you a good recommendation.

          • by terjeber (856226) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @09:52PM (#18982851)

            Even better, cc your vendor and include a line like "I've included John from {insert vendor's name} whom you can contact to purchase additional licenses

            Never, never, never. Don't do this. Bad idea. CC the HR person only. Keep it internal. Don't snitch like this, it is not your business to do that, and it can (rightfully so) make you entirely unemployable. Go the HR way and sue their asses if they fire you.

        • by SRA8 (859587) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @11:17PM (#18983393)
          I've been in a similar situation. I didnt make the email that formal, but basically wrote "Per out conversation, I will make X copies of WorldScope, based on your understanding that so many floating licenses are available." My boss wrote back "do not install." Then came by my desk and verbally said to install. THEN what do you do?
      • by dedazo (737510) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:02PM (#18980217) Journal

        Tell them that you are going to Install Open Office or quit.

        Very easy to sit there and say "just quit your job", isn't it?

        Oh yeah, it's also stupid because better software exists and they have "standardized" on the worst.

        Let me guess, the issue for you [slashdot.org] here is that they're not using open source as you'd like? What "better software" exists?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by twitter (104583)

          Very easy to sit there and say "just quit your job", isn't it?

          I've quit more than one dishonest employer and don't regret it. They never pay their would be bag men well anyway.

          • by Arterion (941661) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:22PM (#18981371)
            I just have to wonder if you've ever went to bed hungry.

            Ethics is further down the list of things to be true to than survival. Especially since we're talking about something as abstract as violating a copyright. No babies are being eaten, and no Nazis are riding dinosaurs. Choosing to to honor IP laws that are themselves ethically questionable over one's own survival is not something I expect anyone to do, regardless of the law. Maybe he has kids to feed. Maybe he lives paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of reasons he might not be able to just quit.

            I think anyone who's ever gone to bed hungry would totally appreciate that.
            • Quitting is best. (Score:4, Interesting)

              by twitter (104583) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @08:01PM (#18981833) Homepage Journal

              Ethics is further down the list of things to be true to than survival. Especially since we're talking about something as abstract as violating a copyright.

              No, we're talking about not being someone else's bagman and the risks that involves. The problem here is that the boss is transferring the risk his company is taking to the employee. If something goes wrong he's screwed and won't have the option of another job he has now. If the company is caught and he's blamed, he'll end up washing dishes for a living.

              I've worked with convicted felons and they all deeply regret their convictions. Their crimes were petty but it has locked them out of all sorts of honest work. The few people who hire them do so because they know they can squeeze that much harder. This makes life harder for them than you and me.

            • by terjeber (856226) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @10:05PM (#18982935)

              Ethics is further down the list of things to be true to than survival. Especially since we're talking about something as abstract as violating a copyright.

              If you break the law, you break the law, and you take responsibility. It doesn't matter if someone "ordered" you to break the law. You see, you can't be ordered by anyone to break the law no matter what, if they did your responsibility was to completely ignore them.

              The one thing to remember is that the following is illegal for a company (1) to order an employee to break the law and (2) to fire someone for refusing to break the law. A company will normally get punished hard for firing someone for refusing to break the law.

              If the original poster sticks to his guns and still experiences significant pressure over this issue after refusing, he should seek proper legal counsel. If he is fired and he lives in the US, he could end up with a decent settlement.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I suggest you document everything, off site and get your CV circulated immediately.

      That's the only sensible course of action here, but I would add: do NOT do something illegal on behalf of your employer, ever, even if means quitting on the spot. No job is worth the hit you will personally take when it comes out. "I was just following orders" doesn't cut much ice with the military when lives are on the line, and will cut absolutely none if you knowingly broke the law just to make money for your employer.

      • by cliffski (65094) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:38PM (#18979839) Homepage
        why would he have to quit? Just don't do it. What is the worst that can happen? they fire you? I don't know US law but in the UK, that would be clear cut unfair dismissal and they could be severely punished by the courts. I doubt you are a union member, but if you are, this is the kind of thing you would have them handle.
        It amazes me that execs in companies can be such thieving bastards, even in companies that themselves make software. If it was somehow necessary for you to quit, then I would 100% definitely report them to FAST if they went ahead anyway. In any case, it sounds like a pretty low-life employer, so your medium to long term plan should be to leave anyway.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          why would he have to quit?

          I did say "even if" it means quitting on the spot. That may well be the outcome, when Mr Executive says "Well, either you follow our instructions or we let you go."

          I don't know US law but in the UK, that would be clear cut unfair dismissal and they could be severely punished by the courts.

          US employment law is completely different to that in the UK. In particular, IIRC most US states are still "at will" states, where either party may terminate an employment contract without

          • by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:46PM (#18980881) Homepage
            Even in states with "at will" employment, you might still have some legal recourse with a "wrongful termination" suit in a situation like this. You won't get your job back, but you might get some other court-imposed judgment out of them (i.e. cash).

            As in so many Ask Slashdots, the answer to this one includes the instruction, "Consult an attorney". The OP needs to find out what his legal rights are in his jurisdiction. In the meantime, document this situation clearly: Put your objections into a memo, addressed to everyone up the chain of command, and request the instructions to install unlicensed software in writing. Following Orders With Objection puts you in a better position than Just Following Orders.

            In case you haven't already pursued this, try to find someone in executive management who is willing to listen to you. Talk to the Legal department or the company's counsel. The senior execs will probably never listen to you (mine never have), but they might listen to someone else in management. This is the approach I took in my first job out of college, where the entire corporate office was being run on a single retail copy of Lotus 123 and WordPerfect, and POs for new computers would come back from Purchasing with the software line-items crossed out "because we already have this". Once Executive Management understood the possible consequences of this approach, I was finally allowed to buy software with all new PCs, and eventually the pirated installs found their way into landfills and the company was legal.
            • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:06PM (#18981185)

              Talk to the Legal department or the company's counsel. The senior execs will probably never listen to you (mine never have), but they might listen to someone else in management.

              I would suggest Legal department/counsel, if your company has one, is where you should be going if you are concerned with legal ramifications -- that's their job, they are the ones paid to determine what is and isn't the best legal way to proceed.

              Installing multiple copies of Office is not illegal, but copyright infringment is, and it's up to the lawyers to sort out what can and cannot be done, to minimize liability.

              And they may know things you don't know, like special super-secret deals the company may have signed out with software vendors, that you're not privvy to or allowed to know about.

              If the lawyers who specialize in the law and representing the company say it's OK and sign their name to it, then you have to take their word on the matter, even if you personally disagree -- it's their a** on the line, not yours.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mistlefoot (636417)
        What would you do if your boss asked you to burn a cd full of mp3's he downloaded via peer to peer?

        I'm really not trying to troll here........and I really do believe that:

        1) Pirating software for home use is minor
        2) Pirating software for a business (or for the purpose of making money FROM that software) is not so minor

        But really, you have mentioned "most of the uses are for people using Excel like a database, or formatting of text in cells".

        I suppose if you answer the initial question I posed by burning him
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Personally, I wouldn't burn the CDs either. For one thing, I think the basic premise of copyright is a reasonable, practical idea and I don't consider ripping the fruits of others' labours without compensation to have any sort of moral or ethical basis. For another, even if it were a "minor" crime in isolation, committing it under those circumstances would not just be breaking the law, but doing so for personal profit (if it's part of the job for which I am being paid), which as far as I'm concerned makes i

      • by Bogtha (906264) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @07:59PM (#18981801)

        That's the only sensible course of action here, but I would add: do NOT do something illegal on behalf of your employer

        Ditto. An old boss of mine was a bit of a bully, and one day he called me into a private meeting and asked me to break into an ex-employee's server to see if they'd copied any of our code (it was actually quite likely). I told him point blank that I wouldn't be doing it and suggested he talk to a solicitor about the suspected copyright infringement. His response? "Oh. Um, okay." It's the quickest I ever saw him back down on anything by miles.

        The thing is, they already know they are in the wrong and are sticking their neck out by asking you to do it. It would take a real psychopath to attempt to force you into it after you refuse. Normal people, even nightmare bosses, are going to back down immediately.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      if they're willing to overrule you and insist you commit an illegal act

      I wasn't aware that installing multiple copies of Office in excess of the number that you've licensed was illegal. It's definitely a violation of the software license, but illegal? I have a hard time seeing criminal charges result from something like this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by petermgreen (876956)
        if you make copys that you are not licensed to make and you can't justify them under fair use (unlikely in this situation) you are infringing copyright in most of the world there are both civial and criminal penalties that can be brought though the criminal ones tend to have some minimum level of infringement and don't tend to be used as much (in lots of places only the government can bring criminal charges and unless you are blatently selling pirate software they are unlikely to do so).

        but attempts to hold
      • by shark72 (702619) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:30PM (#18980621)

        The threshold for criminal infringement is pretty low -- just $1,000 worth of stuff within 180 days. If he's being asked to install Office Professional 2007, he'd hit that (well... $999.90) with two installations.

        But to your point -- I believe the common threshold for actual prosecution is much higher... in the five figure range. Bigger fish, and all that.

      • by SEE (7681) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:46PM (#18980883) Homepage
        Installing multiple copies of Office without a license constitutes copyright infringement, as you are making copies of a copyrighted work (Office) without permission of the copyright holder.

        Now, let's look at the law regarding copyright infringement:

        U.S. Code, Title 17, Section 506:

        (a) Criminal Infringement. - Any person who infringes a copyright willfully either -

        (1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, or

        (2) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000,

        shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, United States Code.


        US Code, Title 18, section 2319:

        (a) Whoever violates section 506 (a) (relating to criminal offenses) of title 17 shall be punished as provided in subsections (b) and (c) of this section and such penalties shall be in addition to any other provisions of title 17 or any other law.
        (b) Any person who commits an offense under section 506 (a)(1) of title 17--
        (1) shall be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies or phonorecords, of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $2,500;
        (2) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a second or subsequent offense under paragraph (1); and
        (3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, in any other case.

        (c) Any person who commits an offense under section 506 (a)(2) of title 17, United States Code--
        (1) shall be imprisoned not more than 3 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution of 10 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of $2,500 or more;
        (2) shall be imprisoned not more than 6 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a second or subsequent offense under paragraph (1); and
        (3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:53PM (#18979025)
    Dear Slashdot, I have a set of principles that I adhere to rigorously. Today, I have been presented with something that violates my principles. What should I do?

    Answer, you have a choice: Grow some balls or a spine. Really, either will do.
    • by Lockejaw (955650) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:44PM (#18979931)
      And if it's not against your principles, you're choosing between hoping it will blow over, and covering your ass. In most cases, I prefer the CYA approach -- cover yours, not your bosses'.
    • by Roadkills-R-Us (122219) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:40PM (#18980775) Homepage
      1) Early in my career, a VP walked into my office and asked me to steal a copy of a competitor's source code. I refused. I later found out he'd already asked someone else more senior, who had also refused. He eventually came to his senses, and never asked us to do anything unethical or illegal again. Everyone lived happily ever after.

      2) A few years later at another company, two C?Os kept a vendor busy while another VP "borrowed" a copy of their code "until we can afford to pay it back". The rest of us found out about this when the company got sued. Not long after, the company went into bankruptcy and everyone was laid off. Just before thanksgiving. Happy holidays to all the rest of us. I don't think it came to criminal proceedings against the officers of the company, but it very well could have. Civil suits were also filed against the CEO/CFO team, and they declared personal bankruptcy as well.

      So which boat would you rather be in?

      I know, you could end up getting chunked out of the boat all together. At that point, I'd drop the hammer on them. If you think think that's a likely scenario, speak with a lawyer NOW so if they threaten you, you know what to say. That might solve teh problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:53PM (#18979031)
    The minute you install the pirated software, you have no moral leg to stand on. You either stick to your guns or you leave. The "I did it because it was my job to do it" defense has been tried (literally) and failed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mattatwork (988481)
      You mean the good ol' Nuremberg defense [wikipedia.org] ( "Befehl ist Befehl" or "only following orders").... Very few who used that defense survived the trials and those that did [wikipedia.org] claimed that if they didn't follow orders they would have been killed.... I doubt that's what the case here is.... Typically if you want to blow the whistle, you have to do so before committing the questionable/illegal act to maintain any kind of credibility. I say delay installing the software and look for another job. Turning them in may b
      • by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:17PM (#18980443) Journal
        "Befehl ist Befehl" or "only following orders"

        I don't speak any German, but doesn't that literally mean "Orders are orders"? Anyway, I don't believe in turning people in for property crimes given their vengeful nature on both sides of the law, and I wouldn't want to put myself in the line of fire, having to testify, have my personal things torn up, possibly losing my own computer at home even, for "discovery", etc. And even more so, I don't want to be labeled as a snitch. I would be completely untrustworthy in the future, and rightfully so. Don't do anything that can be traced back to you. Look for another job, and maybe don't use that particular employer as a reference. They might get caught, and something could lead back to you, even if they are outright lies. Our system has turned honesty into a liability. When dealing with the authorities, always do so anonymously.
    • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:26PM (#18979643)
      And when you file for unemployment, and they deny your claim at first because your left voluntarily, and then you file paperwork in response that you left under duress after being ordered by a superior to do something against the law, stuff gets interesting!
  • by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:54PM (#18979041) Homepage Journal
    You have to chose between the lesser of two evils. Go against your bosses wishes, or go against the law.

    To me, the decision is clear-cut.

    • by arivanov (12034) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:02PM (#18979213) Homepage
      Which country?

      Western Europe, USA, Japan - decision is indeed clear cut as they will blame you for it anyway. It is solely a question of who does it first.

      Eastern Europe, Russia, China - you have a WHOLE ONE LEGAL COPY OF OFFICE? Who is the out of his mind person to buy it.

      So it is all relative... Same as Microsoft policy to enforcing piracy. I have seen them turn a blind eye too many once you get far enough east. After all, as with all crack dealers - the first dose of is free.
  • Professional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 26199 (577806) * on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:55PM (#18979073) Homepage

    Any actual profession... and as much as IT/programming may claim to be one, it isn't really one yet... has a code of conduct that says quite clearly what you need to do. You can't be a professional and knowingly support illegal activity.

    • Re:Professional (Score:5, Informative)

      by sconeu (64226) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:05PM (#18979285) Homepage Journal
      You mean like the ACM Code of Ethics [acm.org]?
  • How ELSE would I get anything done?!
    • Re:Of course. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:04PM (#18979253) Homepage Journal
      How ELSE would I get anything done?!

      I know you meant it as a joke, but it bears repeating. Whenever possible, I always pirate my software first, even at work (own business). The last thing I'm going to do is shell out hundreds of dollars on software that turns out to be shit.

      For those a little skeptical I even had a recent example with Winfax pro. Very glad now that I went with Snappyfax instead, instead of shelling out money for Symantec's piece of crap.

      And yes, I know that a lot of software is try before you buy, but that's a very recent development, and generally doesn't cover anything more than $50~$100 anyway.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:56PM (#18979091)
    If you don't get it in writing, should anything happen and the company be audited ... YOU will be the one blamed and fired.

    Everyone else will swear that YOU were the loose cannon. That they would NEVER violate a copyright. That they are 100% honest.

    Really. They're already asking you to violate your ethics / principles. Why would you believe that they wouldn't lie about who's idea it was?
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:57PM (#18979111)
    You should go into this knowing that, if you get caught, everyone will point the finger squarely at you. That same boss who is ordering you to do this will deny that he knew anything about it and say that you did it on your own. As long as you're willing to deal with the legal and financial fallout that could hit you personally, then go for it.

    Personally, there is *NO WAY IN HELL* I would do it. Nor would I work for a company that was irresponsible enough to even ASK me to. Sounds like you've picked a pretty shady and unstable company to work for. If I were you, I would stall on the installation ("We're having some technical issues with some of the machines, sir") and start looking for a new job. DO NOT install it if you plan on doing this (they would still blame you after-the-fact).

  • by Xest (935314) * on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:57PM (#18979123)
    I've been in a similar situation, only for us it was the case where someone wanted to run a course in our IT Suite. They needed specific software for the course and told me this 2 days before the course was due to run, they told me they'd ordered the licenses and were on the way but might not make it until after the course was due to run.

    Knowing what these people are like, and having little confidence in their ordering of the licenses I put my foot down and refused to install it until the licenses arrived, I made the point that if this caused a problem for their course that they should perhaps consider not leaving things until the last minute in future. My line manager backed me up in my stance however my boss over-ruled both of us and told us to install it, standing my ground I defied him and refused to do so. Eventually my boss installed the software himself, so the course ran and so forth but at least I hadn't been the one to break the law, the best part? Those licenses never arrived, the whole thing was completely illegal, frankly I fail to believe the licenses were ever really ordered.

    You shouldn't worry about losing your job by refusing to do this, they'll most likely back down on any threat to sack you. If they do however follow through then you're looking at an extremely strong court case involving a massive payout for yourself. If you get sacked and know they have gone ahead installing illegal copies, your first stop should be to report them to whatever country deals with anti-piracy raids, when you report it ask that any evidence of infringement they find be made available to your court case, this will make your case pretty much un-loseable. Just bear in mind that you absolutely do not have to do this, you're entirely in the right by refusing to do so and the law will recognise that.

    One other thing to note is that if you do follow through, obey your orders and install the software - what happens if someone else reports your company? Can you really be sure they'll take the blame? What are you going to do if they say they had no knowledge of pirate software on your systems and hence the blame gets shifted entirely on you.

    I think most people pirate at least some software and home, and so some may say it's hypocritical to say the things I've said here knowing that, but there's a distinction to be made between what you do at home and being professional at work. No one has to know what you get upto at home, and so the risk is more controlled, however at work any number of your users could cash in on that $1000 software piracy report reward or whatever. Furthermore, I'd imagine the penalties for what would probably be commercial copyright infringement would be much more harsh than for home copying also.
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:14PM (#18979467) Journal

      but there's a distinction to be made between what you do at home and being professional at work. No one has to know what you get upto at home, and so the risk is more controlled, however at work any number of your users could cash in on that $1000 software piracy report reward or whatever. Furthermore, I'd imagine the penalties for what would probably be commercial copyright infringement would be much more harsh than for home copying also.
      There's another distinction too -- at home you're exposing yourself to risk; you get caught, you face the consequences. At work you're exposing your employer as well as yourself.

      I think it's a lot more wrong to expose others than to expose just myself.

      Err, I probalby could phrase that a bit better... I think it's bad to expose others to risk than to just expose myself to risk.
  • Just don't do it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Goose42 (88624) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @04:59PM (#18979163) Homepage
    The answer is simple, just don't do it. Just do your other jobs instead of following your boss' order to break the law. If he fires you, sue. You'll win multiple years of lost salary easily when the reason you were fired is that you were ordered to commit illegal acts and wouldn't. In the end, it'll look good on the resume for your next job, because future employers will know that you'll stand your ground for the things that are right.

    Honestly, I'm speaking from a little bit of experience here, so keep a stiff upper lip and don't give in to your boss.
  • by eln (21727) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:03PM (#18979245) Homepage
    You're the IT guy. Find an employee who is disgruntled (or maybe just use the guy that keeps eating your lunch out of the fridge even though it's CLEARLY marked with BIG BLACK MARKER with your name). Send an email ratting the company out to the BSA from that person's account. Put a BSA bumper sticker on his car. Sneak into his house and put a thank you card ("The Business Software Alliance thanks you for reporting 500 scofflaw software stealing terrorists in 2006! Wishing you more success bringing down more scum in 2007!") on his mantle.

    Meanwhile, forge emails from your boss to you threatening to fire you if you don't immediately and without question install as much illegal software as possible. Include some BSA baiting ("And if the BSA comes around, I've got a few shotgun shells with their names on it! Yeehaw!") For extra points, forge an entire email thread wherein he continues to threaten you and the BSA and anyone else you can think of despite your continued objections. Throw in some sentences where you attempt to convince him of his wrongs through Bible verses.

    When the BSA comes to the office, throw a Molotov cocktail from your boss's window toward their car. Leave the building and wait across the street for the SWAT team to arrive. If your boss tries to come out, as soon as you can see him coming out the door yell as loud as you can "He's got a gun!"

    This should take care of your problem.
  • A few options: (Score:5, Informative)

    by paladinwannabe2 (889776) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:05PM (#18979269)
    1. Threaten to quit if they don't comply.

    2. Quit.

    3. Mention that penalties for pirating software are more expensive than buying it in the first place.

    4. Install Open Office instead, see if people notice.

    5. Threaten to inform Microsoft/BSA.

    6. Draft your letter to the company owners, but instead talk about how 'Open Office saves money' without mentioning your PHB's stupid plan to pirate Windows.

    7. Go over your bosses's head and tell the owners what he's up to.

    I'm sure other people will give you options as well. You obviously have principles, don't let your work overrule them.
  • Refuse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zx75 (304335) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:11PM (#18979403) Homepage
    It's a hard path, and I know someone who has walked it. I have a cousin who was in the same situation and was fired for refusing to perform those illegal acts.
    If you are in your grace period, they can terminate you without giving a reason, but if you've been employed for some time they cannot legally fire you for refusing to perform an illegal act.

    In the end, my cousin didn't get anything out of it. He had to find another job (and did) but he did have the satisfaction of seeing the company get busted for unrelated illegal actions, which were then compounded when the illegal software was discovered.

    To this day, even though it was tough being forced to find a new job, he is glad that he took a stand against it... and I'll be the first to admit that I admire him for it.
  • by Slashdot Parent (995749) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:13PM (#18979441)
    They asked you to violate the law and your own ethics, you gave them perfectly reasonable alternatives that would cost them nothing, and they still overruled you.

    Tell me again why you are so attached to this job?
  • BSA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eric76 (679787) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:26PM (#18979649)
    You might point out to them that all it takes is one disgruntled employee or ex-employee to make a complaint to the BSA (Business Software Alliance).

    There is a bright spot, however. After they pay a few hundred thousand dollars to the BSA, they may be more willing to switch completely to open source software.
  • by rbanzai (596355) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:31PM (#18979727)
    I would not install unlicensed software at work. If my boss insisted on it I would ask him to put it on paper with the specifics of the software name, the date, and that he knew we did not have a license. If he signs it taking full responsibility I'd go right ahead.

    Part of my job as I.T. Manager has been to make my boss aware of the liability of using pirated software, and of allowing employees to use pirating software like Limewire, etc. If they insist on doing things that expose them to liability it won't be because they didn't know it was a bad idea. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aminorex (141494)
      That would effectively protect you against legal action based on your deeds; however, misprison of a felony is also a crime, so that unless you inform the authorities of your boss' crime, you are still liable to legal action based on your boss' deeds.
  • Get your reward (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quila (201335) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:55PM (#18980115)
    Push it up the chain to the owners, then if there's no love:

    The BSA gives out rewards for reporting piracy. Tell them the situation, but not the company, and find out if the reward will be worth possibly losing your job for reporting them. Then if you do lose your job that's good lawsuit fodder. Reporting is confidential, so the BSA won't tell it's you, but they'll probably know anyway due to your past protests.

    I really don't like the BSA, which likes to drastically punish people for shoddy license accounting. But this is a case of a company willfully and against clear advice installing, using and profiting off of unlicensed software on a large scale. It's just wrong.
  • by evilskull (612292) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @05:59PM (#18980177) Homepage
    The first time I refused to back down and wound up prompting the company owner to call the company lawyer, who literally passed a brick when the owner tried to explain that he didn't "feel" software piracy was wrong. His language is very specific here, because while you might not feel like you're doing something wrong, that doesn't change the fact that it's illegal. Eventually they knuckled down and paid full price for the package they were going to pirate. The second time I was sacked on a friday afternoon after lunch ("Studies have statistically shown that there's less chance of an incident if you do it at the end of the week"). I called the BSA on the way out, and a few weeks later the company was audited to the bargained-down tune of $6,000, of which I received $500 for "doing the right thing". Ultimately, it's a question of how questionable you'll allow your ethics to become; things like this may not travel from job to job or position to position but it's much easier to keep the high ground than to regain it once you've lost it.
  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:00PM (#18980193) Homepage Journal
    The force in this case is that you're the IT guy. Can anyone think of the best thing about being the IT guy?

    Anyone? anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

    You can talk over people's heads and just make stuff up! Seriously. I ask myself this as the IT guy all the time: "Hmmm... do I really want to explain this or do I just want to make something up to get rid of this person?".

    Many times, it's make something up. Besides pointing out the obvious illegality, you can just mention that everytime Office is opened the serial number is reported back to Redmond. If two people have it open at the same time then "BAM!" Microsoft sees a possible piracy issue.

    Remember as the IT Guy that you possess specialized knowledge not unlike a doctor or a lawyer: professions where making stuff up is a time honored tradition.
  • Writing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:05PM (#18980261) Homepage Journal
    IANAL, but I am an employee representative with legal training. However, for Germany, not the US.

    First, insist that they give you the order to install that software in writing. Tell them that you believe it is breaking the law, but as a good employee you will of course do it if ordered to do so in writing with either a) a statement from the legal department that it's legal or b) a statement from the boss that he's taking responsibility.

    Stand your ground on this one. Make sure you have a witness (a co-worker) if things get tough.

    Second, put your objections in writing as well. Sign them and mail them to a third party - a union representative, a lawyer, anyone who'll count for something in a court of law.

    That should cover your ass. If you're ok withh probably breaking the law, you're good from here. If you're not ok, do the one thing you can (and, by the way, are legally obliged to) do: Inform the authorities. Really. Stop dancing around the fire. No matter what you do, one thing is sure to not make you happy in the long run, and that's the half-assed way.
  • oh please (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bwy (726112) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:35PM (#18980689)
    I love the fact that pretty much all the responses to this topic say "quit!"

    It is amazing how easy it is to tell someone else to quit their job. The majority of people telling this guy to quit have probably installed lots of pirated software in the past, and they probably have music that they didn't buy. Why should you be so offended when your manager asks you to do something that you've already done in your personal life many times?

    It is kind of like if you are a mass murderer and go to prison, and your cell mate asks you to kill someone in a cell down the hall. Shouldn't be that offended that he asked, should you?

    Anyway, what this company is asking him to do is wrong. No doubt. But I love the fact that everyone here is so incredibly offended and now has all these morales that they didn't have last week when they were posting bits about how they trade music files without guilt because even though the law says it is illegal, they don't recognize the law as being valid.

    Well, this is SLASHDOT, after all.
  • Immediately Resign (Score:3, Insightful)

    by coaxial (28297) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:37PM (#18980727) Homepage
    You've been asked to break the law. And if it's ever found out (and keep in mind the VAST majority of BSA audits are on the behest of disgruntled employees) you'll be the one on the hook. You don't want that.

    Resign, and make no bones about why.
  • Integrity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by N7DR (536428) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:47PM (#18980897) Homepage
    To answer the question: no.

    And the reason for that answer is best summed up by one of my all-time favourite quotations (from, I think, Alan Simpson): "If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters".

  • Protect Yourself (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Thursday May 03, 2007 @06:47PM (#18980905)
    You should never allow yourself to be ordered into doing something illegal. However, your boss *can* put you in a no-win situation unless you take some precautionary steps.

    The fact of the matter is that you need to *first* make sure that you handle the situation calmly. If your boss backs down, it doesn't mean he isn't going to hold a grudge against you if you caused his pet project to fail.

    Proving why you have been fired can be a tough thing to do if time is allowed to pass. You need to evaluate if you can work with this individual in the future. If he is the type to hold grudges, start looking for another job, even if he seems to calm down. A boss who is willing to order you to break laws will see nothing wrong with trumping up means to decrease your performance ratings even if he doesn't fire you or target you for the next layoff. Moral high-ground isn't very comforting if you are sacked and not prepared for it.

    If any boss gave me an illegal order, I'd instantly consider getting a new job. Even if you aren't fired, you may find yourself laid off after someone sues your company for similar actions.

    Don't expect the legal system to protect you without preparation. If a boss calls you into his office and gives you an illegal order that you refuse, it will be very difficult to prove he ever gave the order if that boss denies it. Your word against his and all that. At that point, you are a potentially marked man, without recourse until you take some action to strengthen your position.

    If the boss does manage to give you the order without any other witnesses, your first step is to go to his boss, with a co-worker and report that order was given. He needs to know about his underling, and you want the co-worker there to make sure that it is clear that you immediately went to him about it. It also prevents that person from covering your boss and his own backend, should he also be the unscrupulous type.

    Be professional about it, though. I have had some bosses who were generally not bad people, but wanted to get the job done. If you can phrase your refusal in a way that is not indignant, but still a firm, "no", then you will be better off. He may realize he's been a jerk, but rubbing it in his face is a bad idea, unless you plan on leaving your job soon anyway.

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite. -- Bertrand Russell, "Skeptical Essays", 1928

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