Hammering companies that use software without license is a good thing, right? After the latest round of show trials drummed up by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), I’m starting to wonder about whether there’s not some sort of disconnect operating here.

In the UK, we’ve had some Christmas witchfinding, with two small companies taken to court for what appear to be minor software licensing screw-ups. One of the two companies is accused of using unlicensed Microsoft software on – get this – 23 PCs.

In the US, meanwhile, it’s been the turn of the Burlington Coat factory and Payless Shoesource Inc. to get it in the neck. Both have settled out of course, as most do accused of such “infringements”

It’s not immediately clear as to the role played by whistleblowers in these cases, but we know that the BSA pays out big time for anyone willing to shop their bosses for software violations. In the UK, this is up to £20,000 ($35,000), and in the US up to $200,000 (£90,000). Does this offer the wrong sort of incentive for disgruntled employees?

Certainly there’s little evidence that these companies were deliberately using the software without license, which, of course, is no defence as far as the BSA and its members are concerned. And then there’s the suspicion that none of these cases had to go anywhere near a court, but did so because it is all good scare publicity for the software’s appointed police force.

We have software license abuse – why don’t we have software customer abuse? How many of the BSA’s members would be willing to go to court to defend themselves against the charge of producing sub-standard software? Funnily enough, you can’t easily do that because the software companies have it covered with those notorious catch-all EULAs.

Nobody supports the illegal use of software because, yes, it is illegal. Software companies have a right to earn a living too. But stop the ridiculous show trials designed to tyrannise companies, the vast majority of whom want to act honestly. And stop being so smug about the evil of software abuse - nobody hauls up software companies for producing sub-standard software because if it were possible to do such a thing one or two of the BSA’s members would have gone out of business a long time ago.

Companies should be given the chance to pay for non-licensed software without being turned into a pawn to market the economic power of the software behemoths. But how many scary headlines would that generate?