Possessing illegal software may be the easiest trap into which many organizations fall. The issue is widespread (the Business Software Alliance estimates 22 percent of all North American software is unlicensed), making it our fourth common tech mistake plaguing small businesses.

Certainly, licensing issues quickly prove perplexing. The differences between OEM, retail, and open license software escapes the understanding of many business owners. Yet manufacturers are becoming more aggressive in locking down licenses (via product activation technologies) and prosecuting offenders (often via the BSA, which has collected more than $81 million in settlements).

Many organizations don’t recognize they do not “own” software, since programs and applications are commonly licensed. Worse, some firms use “borrowed” applications or pirated programs. Problems arise either in the form of audits and penalties or challenging delays (due to product activation conflicts and other licensing issues) when returning failed systems to operation.

License is key

Businesses must understand there are no shortcuts to running legitimate operations. All software, applications, and programs must be properly licensed.

With more manufacturers implementing product activation features, in which software programs report their installation and usage back to the manufacturer, overuse or outright piracy is becoming more difficult or impossible, anyway. But violations still occur.

Businesses can protect against licensing errors and penalties, and help ensure the fastest recovery times when failures occur, by carefully documenting and tracking all software license purchases and deployments.

Further, software licenses (including for operating systems, business line, and office productivity applications, accounting programs, security tools, and other utilities) should be purchased only from reputable technology partners. License sales on eBay that look too good to be true are.

Finally, when installing new programs, organizations should pay close attention to the license agreements they accept.

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