"Is your current or former employer using pirated software in their office? Hit 'em where it really hurts - report their illegal software use today."

That is the controversial clarion call of the Software Alliance.

For twenty-six years the Business Software Alliance (BSA, now known as the Software Alliance) has been patrolling the world, hunting out software pirates wherever they may be. Now, they want you to join their team.

Specifically, in a new wave of ads they ask for your help as a whistleblower, to rat out bosses and corporations who illegally use software that is not properly purchased or licensed. They offer cold hard cash as an incentive, with the actual award varying depending on how the civil suit against the offenders works out.

The online reporting form is anonymous if you wish, but if you hope to collect, of course, you must supply an email and more. According to the Terms and Conditions page, they need "your correct name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and dates of employment (if applicable) at the organization you are reporting, as well as the details of what software is being pirated and how you know this." While the BSA assures applicants that their information will remain anonymous, it also states that it will comply with legal demands for that information, legal demands that would certainly be forthcoming should the case go to trial or even get close. It's fair to expect that the information will be made available to the company even if they reach a negotiated settlement out of court with the BSA.

The BSA Facebook page has only 1,395 Likes, perhaps because Likes are public.

Mind you, WikiLeaks has 2.3 million.

Note that you can't even apply for reward if your work contract has an NDA or no-whistleblowing clause. I don't know where you work, but when I made lattes for a living, we had an NDA. To make sure of this, BSA actually requires a copy of your work contract to be submitted as part of the application process.

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The tactics of the BSA have been the subject of significant criticism. They encourage Microsoft resellers to use their periodic customer system audits to keep the BSA updated regarding their customers' compliance. As recently revealed, Microsoft can actually audit your system, even change it, remotely and without your knowledge. BSA On Board!

The BSA is clearly a well-funded organization whose backers include an alphabet of the most important software companies on the planet, from Adobe to Symantec, and they have been accused of using their considerable resources to bully small companies who are ill-prepared to fight them in court. All its client companies give them power of attorney when it comes to acting on their behalf to stamp out piracy.

According to NetworkWorld, no cases have been fought all the way through in court; they have all been settled prior to the judge ruling, or even prior to going to court. NetworkWorld also reports that in many cases the proof demanded by the BSA includes original packaging and original receipts, which small businesses are unlikely to retain over the years regardless of their level of compliance. "Why no finished court cases? Imagine you watch a poker tournament, and see one player with six chips facing a player with 4,000 chips. Who will win? That's the way the deck is stacked against small businesses when the BSA comes calling."

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Dallas attorney Rob Scott told NetworkWorld, "The BSA is up to their same old dirty tricks, and continue to represent primarily Microsoft. They're the only group that does significant Microsoft matters. Companies from ten to five hundred employees using Microsoft software are significantly at risk for a BSA audit. Any IT turnover or layoffs create a greater chance of audit. Layoffs and mergers create more people looking for reward money."

The BSA uses what's called "unbundling" to magnify the legal threat against companies. If a company buys a copy of Microsoft Office, that is by definition a suite of programs. Instead of treating it as one iteration of an offence, the BSA instead levels piracy charges for each separate program within the bundle, hugely magnifying the potential legal consequences should the company be unable to produce the receipt for purchase. So companies should clear out the storeroom shelves, ditch the CDs, and start putting up banker boxes for the paperwork, which they will need to retain as long as they use the software. At least there will be job security for archivists now.

But back to the potential snitch. Assuming you decide you're cool with blowing up your job, possibly your career, by turning your employer over to the BSA, what are the numbers on that? Better than being a low-level spy, but nowhere near what you might expect, had you watched too many James Bond/Bourne movies. And you can expect to wait months, possibly years, for your handout. Better join that 401k plan at work in the meantime.

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Reward Payment Guidelines
Settlement paid by CompanyPotential Reward payment
$15,000 - $100,000Up to $5,000
$100,001 - $200,000 Up to $10,000
$200,001 - $400,000 Up to $20,000
$400,001 - $600,000 Up to $30,000
$600,001 - $800,000 Up to $40,000
$800,001 - $1,000,000Up to $50,000
$1,000,001 - $2,000,000Up to $100,000
$2,000,001 - $3,000,000Up to $150,000
$3,000,001 - $5,000,000Up to $250,000
$5,000,001 - $10,000,000Up to $500,000
$10,000,001 - $15,000,000Up to $750,000
Over $15,000,000Up to $1,000,000

That's right, less than a million to turn rat and get on the unemployment rolls. Oh, and the award is taxable. Yes, they want your Social Security Number, too.