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BSA accused of dancing to Microsoft's tune

Allegations come out of South America that suggest the pirate buster is influenced by its biggest member

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Shocking allegations of corruption have been levelled against pirate software watchdog the Business Software Alliance. These claims come from the magazine Mother Jones, which has published an article concerning a piracy case that was filed and then dropped against Antel, the Uruguayan national telco. Back in 1995, the BSA caught the phone company with $100,000 worth of unlicensed software, from Novell, Microsoft and Symantec. The BSA's lawyers filed a suit but instead of waiting for a ruling from the judge, the suit was dropped in 1997, when Antel agreed to replace all the pirated software with legal Microsoft products. The report says: "Antel's situation suggests that when the BSA cracks down on piracy overseas, it's Bill Gates who turns out to be the pirate. Representatives from rival firms complain that Microsoft is abusing its power within the BSA to speed its global dominance." The article then quotes Brad Smith, which it describes as a Microsoft attorney. He said: "I am not aware of any instance where that has happened." His sentiments were echoed by BSA representative Diane Smiroldo, who said she found the allegations "hard to believe." However, Mother Jones includes remarks attributed to Eduardo DeFreitas, a BSA lawyer in Uruguay. He said: "Microsoft told me to stop working on the case because they would write an agreement with Antel." The magazine also claims that Novell is just one software vendor to have parted company with the BSA. In another case, in 1996, Australian shipping company Toll Holdings was taken to task by the BSA for piracy. The case concerned illegal software from Novell, Lotus, Symantec and Microsoft, the final settlement included fines payable only to Microsoft and Symantec. An un-named Novell official is quoted in the article as saying: "Toll offered to legalise on all Microsoft products if [the BSA] dropped the suit." In Slovenia, Microsoft's country manager, Aaron Marko, is also the representative of the BSA. 96 per cent of all software in the region is pirated, and Marko says that because enforcing anti piracy laws is so difficult in the country's court system, he often offers discounted Microsoft software to replace pirated goods. The Mother Jones reporter asked Marko if he thought of this as a conflict of interest he responded: "BSA is trying to find the pirate. Then it is a question of marketing and product awareness to see who will get the legal market share." Mike Newton, a spokesman for the BSA UK, said that the notion that the BSA is a Microsoft puppet is an old slur in which there is no truth. "The BSA is one member one vote," he said. "For example, the current chairman is an Adobe employee. We operate on a consensus basis which means that if one member disagrees with a course of action planned, it can veto it." Newton was unable to comment on the cases mentioned in the article, but said that the BSA often finds it more effective to settle out of court. The company caught with illegal software will be required to destroy the pirate material, and pay a settlement fee to the BSA. ®

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