What did the city of Birmingham do to get itself into the bad books of the Business Software Alliance?

It turns out that according to the BSA’s own figures, the city is the UK’s top ‘illegal piracy hotspot’ accounting for 15 percent of the country’s license evasion.

It's an offence so heinous in the eyes of the BSA police that stamping it out summons images of a 17th Century Witchfinder General torching peasant hovels and interrogating bearded spinsters.

To ram home the point, the BSA plans to spend the next three months contacting around 1,000 companies in the city asking them to “to declare member software installed on company owned computers, devices and networks to check that it is fully licensed according to the agreements they hold.”

Participants will then be asked to visit a website where they will complete an audit form, which at least won't involve them signing in blood. The guilty, that is companies who turn out to be ‘under-licensed’, will be given 30 days to get themselves into shape of face the BSA’s wrath.

“Those companies that appear to be under-licensed and refuse to take action to address the issue will be subject to investigation and potential legal action.”

It’s not quite the dunking chair and nobody will drown. Deliberate software license evasion is after all an offence we wouldn’t want to downplay, but there will plenty of people who feel the demonising of a city and its companies is going a bit far.

The BSA has been in threatening mood recently, publishing figures that paint software evasion in an economically bad light, and even offering money to employees who fancy earning a few grand to shop their employers. One thousand UK companies have been caught using unlicensed software, says the BSA, generating hefty fines.

Nobody minds a hunt-the-demon session, but it can look a bit one-eyed given the scale of software failure that licensed companies put up with day in day out from some of the same large software vendors behind the BSA. Let’s face it, software isn’t an unalloyed joy.

Do companies accused of abusing software licensing need terror and the threat of fines or better software tools to help them manage licensing?

Software management vendor, FrontRange Solutions, sums up the case for a more tolerant approach.

“The sheer rate of proliferation of these applications makes it increasingly difficult for the IT manager to monitor what software is being used within the business,” says FrontRange’s Matt Fisher.

“This is compounded by the fact that many employees are able to download or install software on their PCs without the knowledge or permission of the network administrator.”

In short, software has become complex, difficult to manage, and many companies might be under-licensed (or over licensed) without realising it. They are not necessarily witches.

“The threat of ‘piracy’ and associated fines is doing little to motivate businesses to get their software licensing in order, perhaps more information and guidance from organisations such as the BSA and software vendors alike would be more effective.”

Don’t light the bonfire just yet.