Last month, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) announced the first major settlement reached by its Corporate Content Anti-Piracy Program (CCAPP). The settlement was reached with Knowledge Networks, Inc. (KNI), a market research firm based in Menlo Park, California, with fewer than 500 employees nationwide. The SIIA accused KNI of copyright infringement arising out of KNI's internal distribution to its employees of written content authored by SIIA members, such as the Associated Press, Reed Elsevier, and United Press International, without securing licenses to copy the content. The SIIA learned about the content distribution through a confidential tip from an informant who later received a $6,000 reward from the SIIA. In order to resolve the matter, KNI eventually agreed to pay the SIIA $300,000 and to send its employees to an SIIA-approved "Certified Content Rights Manager" course.

This chain of events - anonymous tip, followed by allegations, negotiation, and, eventually, settlement for money damages - is very similar to what typically occurs in software audit cases initiated by the SIIA, the Business Software Alliance, and some software publishers. What is perhaps more troubling about the SIIA's new focus on "corporate content" is how small-to-medium businesses, many of whom are completely unaware that any of their actions might constitute copyright infringement, nevertheless could find themselves the targets of SIIA-initiated "content audits." These companies may be subject to substantial settlements, and become the subject of a widely disseminated press release regarding corporate "piracy." It appears that a company could targeted if an employee copied and pasted copyrighted text and then hit the "Send" button on an internal e-mail.

It is certainly important to develop and maintain awareness of the content that your employees are distributing internally within your organization. However, if your business has been accused of corporate content "piracy" by any industry association like the SIIA, it is equally important that you consult with an attorney who can provide some insight into the legal arguments and strategies typically employed in similar matters.