Blog / A Treasure Hunt

Less so is the Software Treasure Hunt. Licensing agreements that govern how software is sold and used can be very confusing.  Software is more like books and movies – you are allowed to use the product, but you can’t copy  or redistribute it without permission.  There are even strict rules on how you can use it – what devices it can be put on, how many times it can be copied for backup, and so on.

I’m sure we’ve all zipped by the software End User License Agreement (EULA) that is presented when we install software.  We’re supposed to carefully read and consider the implications of the terms-of-use before agreeing to them.  Bah! We’re all just anxious to get the new program working and no one wants to read pages and pages of legalese – so we just check the box agreeing to the terms and carry on. I’ve never read more than a few lines of the EULA before giving up.  After all, who really cares?

Not so fast hombre! Buried deep inside all of that text are clauses that impact the user’s rights. An important one is the right for the software manufacturer to request verification of your appropriate use – in other words, an Audit. And it’s not just for the one software package you are installing – it’s for ALL of their products.

Adobe or Microsoft are not going to target individual users unless they suspect a glaring abuse of the agreement. So, if you’re reselling pirated copies of Office or Photoshop, then expect a call.  Otherwise, you should be safe.

To be clear, this is a civil matter between the client and the vendor.  It’s not a government sponsored or run program, nor is any criminal wrong-doing suspected.  The software vendor is just looking for some easy money to align their licensing with the client’s use. The authorities only get involved if there is suspected criminal activity (ie: reselling or distributing pirated software – or flagrant violation of the EULA); there are laws about this.  However, violation of the EULA could trigger a civil action by the vendor if they think it’s warranted.

Software vendors are interested in corporations and governments to insure they conform to the terms of the EULA. Occasionally we get a call from a client to help them with an audit – most of them are requested by Microsoft.  The process is easy to understand, but hard to implement:

  1. Microsoft alert you of the audit requirement
  2. They forward a spreadsheet of known or suspected licenses (they use their registration database for the initial figures)
  3. The client completes the spreadsheet with their license information that is verifiable and on hand and return the sheet to Microsoft
  4. Microsoft review and notify the client of any discrepancies
  5. Rarely – and only if Microsoft suspect criminal intent, will they send an independent firm to verify audit results.

The range of products is very broad; operating systems for all workstations, laptops, and servers, Office, Client Access Licenses (CALs) for servers, Exchange and SQL Server, and specialty products like SharePoint all fall under the audit.  It could be hundreds of items that need to be verified.

Nor is it obvious what appropriate use means – as each license type carries it’s own rules about how it can be used. For example, a commercial (retail) copy of Office 2016 can be installed on one computer ONLY.  However, Office 365 – a subscription-based license – can be installed on up to 5 devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, home computer) as long as they belong to the same user. But you can’t install 1 license of Office 365 for 5 different users. Office licenses for government, charity and corporate that are issued under the Microsoft Open License Program (MOLP) have very different terms.

It’s STEP 3 that triggers the most work for the client. Remember that some software products in your organization may be 5 (or more) years old. Many client’s don’t have a good system of organizing or tracking software licenses.  Most often, they’re stuffed in a box hidden in a storeroom or in the bottom of a filing cabinet.  Some clients don’t have any copies – they’ve thrown them out.

That usually triggers the Software Treasure Hunt.  It becomes a desperate search throughout the organization for anything that looks like a license, as each missing license could cost hundreds – maybe thousands – of dollars to replace it.

Most often, we get involved – sometimes to sort out the box of licenses and fill in the spreadsheet, sometimes to research the client’s purchase history to obtain proof of purchase through invoicing, and sometimes to work as a liaison between the client and Microsoft.

Of course, the solution really starts with careful organization and management of the license documentation as you purchase them. Each should be categorized and labelled with the date, purchase invoice #, and machine it resides on.  You can use a spreadsheet to track them electronically, or use an Asset Management program. Equally important is to purge retired licenses when the machine is retired, otherwise your system becomes overloaded with licenses that are no longer in use. A further enhancement of this is to attach the license to a retired asset in case it is being re-purposed or re-deployed (ie: being given to a charity).

Most Treasure Hunts are fun.  But a Software Treasure Hunt is anything but. Perhaps a good project for a summer student is to organize your software licenses before someone comes calling.


Dave White 

Trinus Technologies Inc