How to Best Understand the Business Software Alliance

Executive Summary

  • The Business Software Alliance was created by Microsoft.
  • We cover how the BSA produces fake research.


The Business Software Alliance is a legal and lobby group that is ostensibly designed around enforcing copyright rules.

The Business Software Alliance performs audits for the software vendors that fund them, but there is some interesting debate as to who the Business Software Alliance serves. In this article, we will get into the topic of this entity’s motivations.

Business Software Alliance and Their Motivations

The Business Software Alliance was founded by Microsoft. They now have many other software vendors as members including Intel, SAP, Symantec and Adobe among others. However, research from previous cases where the Business Software Alliance has brought actions against companies that it found to be out of compliance, it turns out that the primary way to get the Business Software Alliance to go away is to purchase Microsoft products. This is true even at the expense of other software vendors that are in the alliance. Therefore, the Business Software Alliance has an official reason for being (to stop copyright infringement of the software of their members), but it has a practical reason for being, which is to move as much of the software purchases to Microsoft.

In fact, many of the attorneys for the Business Software Analysis also do work for Microsoft on other matters. This is in addition to the fact that Microsoft provides the most money to the Business Software Alliance. This means that it is very difficult for the Business Software Alliance to claim that they represent the interests of all their funders.

Business Software Alliance as a Bully Organization

The Business Software Alliance has a remarkably negative reputation. Their MO is to audit smaller companies, under the guise of being an “independent” audit. They then share any information that they have gathered with Microsoft. In fact, in some countries, a senior account manager (salesperson) for Microsoft is also the Business Software Alliance representative. Therefore, the lack of independence of the Business Software Alliance is not something that Microsoft even attempts to provide.

  • The BSA actively encourages ex-employees to rat on their previous employers offering large awards. And there is also a problem in that in many cases those that turned in their employers themselves had installed the software before they left that causes the violation of copyright.
  • There is also the problem that in some cases the employee, often working in IT and therefore familiar with the rules of the BSA, takes the receipts for software with them before they go, and they report the company as out of compliance with the BSA.
  • Finally, the evidence that the BSA requires appeared excessive and designed to maximize the finding of out of compliance licenses.
  • The BSA pays rewards to people that turn their companies in, but then state that the rewards are irrelevant in determining a motive. They state the only important thing is “the story they have to tell.” That is an interesting position to take, as motive is used to determine the credibility of witnesses during actual trials. The BSA has no way of knowing if those that turn in their employers are doing so for the money or because the company violated the copyrights of their funders.

The BSA has a way of making up its rules. Almost no BSA brought audits and actions are ever taken to court, so the attorneys that work for the BSA use their training primarily to intimidate the customer to settle. And settlement means purchasing (in most cases) more Microsoft product.

The BSA’s behaviors are quite horrid, but they serve to distract attention from the funders of the BSA. That is, the BSA can develop a terrible reputation for misusing power, but the vendors themselves are insulated from the PR damage.

No Declaration of Funders

The only way to find the funders of the Business Software Alliance is to look at non-BSA sources or to look for who is on the board of directors. Not declaring funders, for a group that purports to be dedicated to a high-minded ideal, and which purports to perform research, is a violation of the basic rules of transparency. Here are the list companies the people on the BSA’s board of directors work for.

  • Oracle
  • Symantec
  • Apple
  • IBM
  • Adobe
  • AutoDesk
  • Bently Systems Inc
  • CA Technologies
  • DataStax
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • SAS
  • Siemens Product Life Cycle Management Software
  • Splunk
  • Tend Micro
  • Workday

Virtually every member of this board is the General Counsel or Cheif Legal Office for the company the work for.

That is quite a large board, and it is no doubt necessary to placate all of the funders that they have a place at the table. We can be reasonably certain that these are the major donors behind the BSA. However, several of these vendors have voiced the concern that the BSA primarily looks out for Microsoft first.

Publishing Fake Research

Like most industry-funded groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, research without any evidence is published which is beneficial to the funders. BSA follows no methods, never has its research peer-reviewed, and routinely has its research lampooned in the IT press. They do not explain that the research is funded by software vendors, which have a strong financial incentive to overstated the losses due to piracy and other related copyright infringement, and present themselves as impartial, just looking out for apple pie, truth, and all that good.


The BSA is a front group that operates on pure intimidation. Their game is to shock a company and intimidate them into buying most often Microsoft products, but sometimes other vendor’s products as well. They are a beehive of conflicts of interest and follow none of the transparency rules that an entity that was playing fairly would normally follow. They set incredibly high standards of what constitutes evidence of purchased software to maximize the fines that they request, and the purchases made to their chief sponsor. In that way, they are an extra-legal entity, shaking down companies, not based upon actual copyright law, but based upon the cost of actually taking a case against the BSA, with their very deep pockets to court.

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.

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