January 29, 2001, 9:52 AM — SOFTWARE PIRACY IS a terrible thing, but you have to wonder about how some companies choose to combat it. And the one you have to wonder about most is Microsoft.
Reader responses to the story of "Mr. Little" and the unsettling anti-piracy letter he received from Microsoft's "licensing compliance manager" (see "Are Microsoft's scare tactics intended to disturb businesses' Mr. Littles?,") revealed several interesting patterns. Few customers enjoy being accused of piracy for no reason, and Microsoft resellers don't like it either. And it has become clear that Microsoft's anti-piracy mailings aren't quite as indiscriminate as they would have us believe.
Readers receiving letters similar to Mr. Little's agreed it was designed to scare recipients into believing they were at risk for a software audit if they didn't buy something from SoftChoice, the reseller designated in the letter as Microsoft's chosen compliance checker. "I was fairly upset when I got that letter, because I know we are properly licensed for all our Microsoft software," wrote one reader who called SoftChoice to find out why his company was targeted. "After they told me that the letter was being sent out to everybody, I was even angrier. Only a monopoly would think it can get away with treating its customers this way."
A number of readers complained of getting two letters from Microsoft in rapid succession. One was a generic flyer like Mr. Little got and the other made specific references to their account. "We are a small business and I received not only the letter you described in your column but another letter from Microsoft saying that my server/client ratio was out of the norm," wrote another reader. "I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels it is inappropriate for a company to whom I have paid a lot of money to send a letter like that. However, the letter was particularly galling since we made the decision to honor Microsoft's BackOffice license terms and purchased separate copies of Proxy Server and SQL Server for the separate boxes even though we have BackOffice 4.5 on the Exchange server and are not using either of those applications on that box."
Angriest of all were some Microsoft resellers, because they felt the real piracy in all this was Microsoft helping SoftChoice steal their customers. "What is our client supposed to think when they get a letter implying that they are improperly licensed?" asked one authorized Microsoft reseller. "It sounds like we must be at fault, and Microsoft is suggesting they should contact this SoftChoice instead. At least this client called us -- I wonder if any others went straight to SoftChoice?"
An interesting coincidence I noticed after the previous column ran was that many readers received an anti-piracy letter from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) within days of getting the Microsoft missive.