For 30,000 businesses in seven southern Ontario cities, March is the month to sift through their desktops and networks and come clean about their not-exactly legal software.

The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) has announced that from March 1 to March 31 its second Software Truce Campaign will take place in the cities of Barrie, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Ottawa and Toronto. CAAST says it’s an opportunity for businesses to report and properly license pirated software without risking fines for past infringements.

CAAST president Allan Steel said IT users who go to the truce’s Web site or call its hotline will get an amnesty number. Then, if their company is later targeted for an investigation “all they need to do is pull out that piece of paper and we go away.”

“The truce gives those people that do find that they are out-of-whack an opportunity to move forward without fear of reprisal from anyone. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to educate more users to insure that they are using legitimate software – there are still many people who don’t understand the use of software,” said Steel, who in his day job is general manger of Autodesk Canada, a maker of AutoCAD-based design software.

As well as those businesses deliberately using pirated software, Steel said CAAST would like to hear from organizations that have accidentally fallen out of compliance with their licences as they have grown, moved or swallowed up other companies.

“One of the problems with software is that it is not a tangible thing. Everybody knows where a computer is, and it’s probably one of the most guarded assets of an organization. But a $3,000 PC may have $15,000-worth of software sitting on it and very few companies know exactly what that software is,” he said.

At the enterprise level most companies are not pirating software with malicious intent, but their non-compliance does reflect the chaos of the desktop, said Randy Britton, communications director for Tally Systems Corp. in Lebanon, N.H.

Britton said Tally offers its clients a hosted service that will perform a software inventory of all their networked machines by having end-users click on a URL that uploads a list of programs to a hosted server. Given the recent popularity of “ghosting” technology that remotely configures new machines, Britton said the number of applications that have been paid for, and the number that are actually running in a given environment aren’t always the same.

“It’s amazing to me how many big companies know where every nut and bolt is in their warehouse, but hey have no idea what software is installed in their machines. Most IT mangers will say ‘Oh yes, we’re in compliance . . . I think.’ They have this vague sense that everything’s OK because they bought extra licenses last time they updated, but they haven’t done an inventory of their software,” Britton said.

As president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Technology Asset Management Inc., Sherry Irwin specializes in helping organizations keep track of their physical, contractual and financial IT resources. Even with automated, electronic discovery tools, Irwin said it could take months to get a handle on what has been turned loose into a computing environment

“Many of our clients do get into software asset management because they are concerned that they are out of compliance with their licence agreements and there might be financial and legal exposure as a result. But some also feel that they are probably over-buying their software to compensate for that risk, and that there might be savings by managing their software more effectively and buying closer to what they actually need rather than over-buying,” she said.

“By knowing what you have, where it is, and who’s using it you can look at ways to improve the return from that software – so how to use it more, better or differently to get better value for the money we’ve spent, Irwin added.

For seven years Vancouver-based Absolute Software Inc. has been in the business of helping IT-users track the “machine drift” that takes place within their organizations, said Mark St. Quintin, the firm’s director of product management.

When included on a network’s logon script, the company’s AbsoluteTrack agent will invisibly discover all of the software applications that are installed on each PC and then summarize that information in a software licence compliance report that customers can download from Absolute’s Web site, said St. Quintin.

St. Quintin also said that since enterprises have a legitimate need for uncomplicated, authoritative compliance reporting, he hopes to work with CAAST and similar bodies to develop accreditation standards for these types of asset management tools.

According to CAAST, a similar truce last year in western Canada generated hundreds of calls and 745,000 hits to its Web site. But despite reporting tools and piracy-awareness ad campaigns, Steel said that CAAST’s work is a never-ending battle.

“Will we ever get down to zero? I don’t think so. However we would like to get down to our counterparts in the U.S. who are sitting at 24 per cent (pirated software) while we sit at 38 per cent.

Tally Systems’ Britton said that although the BSA and CAAST have done good work with their software amnesties, and that avoiding their increasing large piracy fines is a must, companies should think about getting their licensing houses in order simply because “it’s a good thing in and of itself.”

“Inventory is a dirty nasty business and everybody always has something that seems far more important to do, but if you don’t pay attention to it it’s going to bite you in the butt,” he said.

The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft is at

Tally Systems is online at

Absolute Software is at

Technology Asset Management is at