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“Campaign for Clear Licensing” Picking Up Steam?

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Several weeks ago, an interesting idea was hatched. An idea which, if the wheels can truly be set in motion, has the potential to change the nature of software licensing. An idea which, I believe, merits both attention and support. Martin Thompson, editor/publisher of the ITAM Review, is calling for a non-profit regulator of the software licensing industry, akin to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC is designed to protect “the little guy,” the consumer with virtually no voice, from the malfeasance of manufacturers who seek to maximize profits at the expense of human health. The “Campaign for Clear Licensing” is intended to spark a movement and efforts to guarante
e the protection of software buyers from the consequences of confusing, if not utterly baffling, licensing practices of the “mega-vendors.”

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Mr. Thompson rightly points out that software vendors have established a consortium of associations whose missions are to protect and promote their commercial interests: namely the BSA, SIIA, and FAST. They have also engaged in extensive governmental lobbying to ensure that intellectual property laws are drafted, amended, interpreted, and enforced in manners that serve those interests.

Why the need for a countervailing entity that looks out for software buyers? It’s pretty simple: anyone involved in the procurement and/or interpretation of software licensing would agree that among the major software vendors, licensing practices often border on predatory and don’t adequately clarify terms in such ways that can be a) understood by the layperson, b) applied across the mish-mash of platforms and infrastructures that comprise the typical enterprise, and 3) reasonably enforced by organizations with the best of intentions.

When you consider the fact that 63% of ISVs state that “revenue generation” is the number one objective of their own compliance efforts targeting customers,* it’s hard to imagine why vendors would ever make it a priority to overhaul and/or clarify their license models for customers without additional pressure. After all, if compliance becomes too easy, what grounds would they have for serving their customers with audit letters?

When you examine the trail of comments to Mr. Thompson’s original post introducing the concept, it appears there’s a great deal of support for his idea. It’s as of yet unclear how he will go about organizing such an effort or what kind of real authority this organization would have, especially without the backing of big money. If the idea can be somehow blended into existing legal and/or regulatory frameworks (perhaps modeled after the Plain English Statutes that have cropped up in the U.S. over recent decades), this movement could truly develop the “teeth” necessary to influence vendor behavior. On the other hand, if the movement serves primarily to “out” the egregious behavior of certain vendors in an organized, aggregated manner (similar in concept to the mission of www.glassdoor.com), Mr. Thompson’s largest challenge will be to recruit an audience that’s broad enough, loud enough, and motivated enough to actually influence vendor behavior. Ideally, the effort will combine elements of both.

The cost of software compliance is high. Investments in SAM technology, human resources, and processes and procedures add significantly to the total cost of software ownership. It is time for vendors to do their part to help their customers with the compliance burden. And if they need the proverbial kick in the pants to start down the path, so be it.

We are in full support of Mr. Thompson’s efforts, and we look forward to learning out how we as a SAM vendor can help with this grass-roots effort.

* Ernst & Young, Software Compliance without Tears (2011)

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