It’s been accused of zealotry in its time, but the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has decided to adopt a softer tone, founding a new body to reach out to the companies it usually polices with Robespierre-like fanaticism.

The new ‘initiative’ has been named the Software Industry Research Board (SIRB), and will commence its activities with a survey of 600-700 CIOs at UK businesses to find out something that commentators had previously thought beyond FAST’s vendor-driven agenda - how the average business sees the troubled issue of software licensing.

FAST chief executive John Lovelock admitted FAST had acquired a negative image among businesses for hounding companies accused of software licence infringements, something he blamed on the Corporate Services wing of the organisation that was now a separate entity from FAST itself.

He agreed that companies could find themselves infringing on licences for a range of innocent reasons, including confusing end-user licence agreements (EULAs), and uncertainty as to how new technologies such as virtualisation affected existing agreements.

“That is a fair perception in the marketplace,” he said. We have to distance ourselves from that. We are [simply] here to promote the legal use of software.”

“The Software Industry Research Board (SIRB) aims to address and simplify the often diverse and confusing issues in the field of Software Asset Management and Software License Management,” said Lovelock in the official release.

“A fundamental premise of the SIRB is to ensure that it has a clear understanding of end user perceptions and concerns and to work with its members to both educate and assist in the adoption of best practices in managing software assets,” he said.

The new organisation, if it can be called that, is endorsed by prominent FAST members, Microsoft and FrontRange, and will dedicate itself to educating rather than frightening the market into compliance.

The survey, to be conducted by research outfit IDC in July, will be used to create an educational programme on the licensing issues that mostly confound businesses, Lovelock said. SIRB was FAST’s attempt to engage with mid-range and smaller companies in a constructive way, a marked softening of the organisation’s past tactics, he agreed.