The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) routinely sends letters to businesses on behalf of many software publishers, including Microsoft, to investigate potential copyright infringement claims based on allegedly unlicensed software. The software audit process can be long and expensive, in part due to the fact that the SIIA and BSA typically require a targeted company to produce dated proofs of purchase for licenses for every software product installed on its computers as of the effective date of the audit, regardless of how many years have passed since the license purchase. Although the IRS generally requires businesses to maintain records for only seven years, the SIIA and BSA allow no such limitation in demanding invoices or receipts for all software license purchases. Businesses often are unable to find the documentation for the purchase of each product, which typically results in a higher payment demanded by the SIIA or BSA to settle the matter.
The notion that a business could legitimately purchase software only to be required to re-purchase it following a software audit - in addition to having to pay a penalty to the SIIA or BSA - leads some businesses to seek open source alternatives. For many of the BSA-member products most commonly found to be at issue during a third-party audit - such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop - there are analogous open-source alternatives - such as OpenOffice or GIMP - that are available at little or no cost to license. Although the functionality of these alternatives is not identical to that of the SIIA- or BSA-member products, many consumers determine that those differences are less compelling than the advantage of cutting costs and avoiding future exposure related to third-party audits. However, it is important to keep in mind that, while it may cost nothing to deploy open-source software, the installation and use of those products are still subject to copyright laws and governed by the terms of license agreements (such as the GNU General Public License). The terms of those licenses can have a significant impact on a business' ability to host, modify or redeploy open-source software products. Therefore, businesses should make an effort - if necessary, with the advice of counsel - to familiarize themselves with the terms of those licenses.