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Is your business playing "software piracy roulette?" It could be, if your employees are pirating software. When was the last time you checked your office computers for unlicensed software? Research shows that approximately one out of every five software programs in the U.S. is unlicensed.

With the increased use of the Internet at work, businesses need to make certain that company networks are not being used to download unlicensed software. Unauthorized file-sharing of copyrighted work doesn’t just consume system resources; it also violates federal law. Each program that is infringed may lead to a penalty of up to $150,000. Furthermore, an organization can be held liable for its employees’ actions.

The Better Business Bureau is joining with the Business Software Alliance (BSA) to remind businesses about the importance of software asset management. It is not just a safety issue; it’s also a financial issue. Businesses should manage their software just as carefully as they would any other major asset.

The following steps can help business owners and managers to ensure that their employees aren’t "gambling" with digital security by using unauthorized software.

• Conduct a self-audit of your software licenses. Free tools to inventory office software are available on the BSA Web site at www.bsaaudit.com.

• Compare the number of software installations to the number of licenses. Obtain any licenses needed for full compliance.

• Communicate to your employees the importance of protecting computers from unlicensed software. Cite specific examples of workplace software piracy (downloading illegal software from the Internet, over-installing programs, and buying and installing unauthorized products) and how such practices put the company at risk.

• Establish office policies for purchasing software and respecting intellectual property rights.

• Have procedures in place that clearly outline what computer security and safety procedures employees are expected to adhere to. Post them in a prominent place or circulate the guidelines throughout the office on a regular basis.

• Schedule regular software audits throughout the year to guard against piracy.

Always remember to contact the BBB if you have doubts about a software vendor or want to check out a "too good to be true" advertisement for computer products.