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BSA advertising campaign in Italy: is free software unlawful?

Nov 01, 2000, 00:05 (30 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Francesco Marchetti-Stasi)

[ Thanks to Francesco Marchetti-Stasi for this report: ]

Usually ads don't get my attention, but there was something unusual on the Italian TV last week. Something which made me run to http://www.bsa.org/, since I didn't know (yet) the so-called "Business Software Alliance", an organisation of software houses devoted to "fighting software piracy". I also found out from their home page that they were rather proud of the "Italian Campaign", which I had found rather irritating instead.

You can download the ad from http://www2.bsa.org/italia/policy/bsa.MPG, but since it is about 5 MB a translation of the description found on the site may be useful:

"People using copied software have no idea they could be thrown in jail. The protagonist of the ad, a quiet businessman, finds himself in a Police District confronted with a number of jailbirds. He's calm, he thinks he did nothing wrong. But he doesn't know that copying software, under the new law, brings heavy consequence: you can be jailed. The confront starts, after a few seconds the man understands, he knows he's guilty. A voice explains the gravity of the situation, we read angst on the man's face. To be sure you're using lawful software, get in touch with BSA"

The voice in the ad says:

"44% of software is duplicated, copied, sold as original. Use of copied software in a firm is unlawful. Under the new law you risk up to three years of jail. To check whether the software in your firm is compliant to law, contact BSA"

The first point to note is that the ad says that "copying software" is a unlawful, but this is not correct: copying and selling software is a right reserved to the author, but he can use a license (GPL or similar) to give everybody the right to copy and distribute it. This is the main point of annoyance: to give a simple message, they talk about "copying software" without further specifications; but in this way they give the message that only non-free licensed software exists. Which is a very misleading message.

As a secondary point, it should be noted that the law punishes unauthorised selling or distribution of licensed software; but what about using licensed copied software? Of course, it is not legal; but it cannot be considered a penal crime, to be punished with jail. It is simply an infringement of the license. As such, it cannot be persecuted by the Attorney-General: the software producer has to file a lawsuit against you. Luckily (or unluckily), as far as I know, there has never been such a case in an Italian Court; so we don't know what the legal consequences would be. I am not a lawyer, but I dare say jail is not very likely.

Emmanuele Somma <<A HREF="mailto:esomma@ieee.org/">esomma@ieee.org>, Executive Editor of Italian "Linux Magazine", prepared a suit against BSA to the Italian Antitrust Authority (http://www.agcm.it/; e-mail antitrust@agcm.it), which has also the duty to control untrustworthy advertisement. The proposed sanctions are the retirement of the ad and the preparation and broadcasting of corrective advertising. We'll just have to wait and see what the answer will be... in the meantime, it would interesting to get comments from members of BSA, especially from the ones which are getting closer to the Open Source community: Corel and IBM.

Francesco Marchetti-Stasi <<A HREF="mailto:f.marchetti-stasi@cern.ch">f.marchetti-stasi@cern.ch>

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