Autodesk Pirates Pay Up

Florida Benchmark, a mortgage survey company, has become the latest victim of a Web 2.0-style sting operation orchestrated by the Software & Information Industry Association. Busted.

The company agreed to pay $150,000 in damages to the SIIA after an online tipster notified SIIA officials that Florida Benchmark had installed and was using more copies of Autodesk software than it had licenses to use

In addition to the fine, Florida Benchmark agreed to “other confidential terms for its unauthorized copying and use of multiple Autodesk software products,” according to an SIIA statement.

Keith Kupferschmid, the SIIA’s senior vice president for intellectual property, said the trade association’s attorneys are on the verge of settling another copyright-infringement lawsuit pending in the Eastern District of New York and plans to file a lawsuit against yet another software pirate sometime in the next two weeks.

On Monday, the SIIA, which represents more than 800 software and digital information companies, announced that through September, it has paid out more than $39,500 in cash to 14 sources who have reported instances of software piracy through its Anti-Piracy reward program. The trade association offers rewards ranging from $500 for a settlement of $10,000 to $1 million for cases with settlements of more than $20 million to whistleblowers who report alleged software piracy through its Web site.

In 2007 alone, Kupferschmid said the SIIA and its attorneys followed up on tipsters through various investigative techniques before contacting the executives at the offending companies. If the companies don’t come clean and settle up, SIIA attorneys pursue litigation on behalf of the software companies. The SIIA has between 200 and 250 cases pending, he said.

“To be frank, we don’t litigate all that often,” Kupferschmid said in an interview with “We’ll litigate maybe two of them. Most of the companies do cooperate and work with us to become software compliant. It’s fairly painless.”

SIIA investigators, after discerning whether an online tip has any merit, go to the company’s Web site looking for clues to support the allegation. They call around to other SIIA member companies to see if and how many software licenses they have for other applications. They dig through classified advertisements for IT workers to see what software skills they’re looking for and what applications they’re running.

The SIIA provides free, downloadable audit programs for accused companies to inventory all their applications. Sometimes the CIO or CEO doesn’t even know the illegal versions of the software are being used.

Once a company or individual is caught, confronted and confesses, a settlement arrangement is worked out between the company and the SIIA. Typically, Kupferschmid said, the company will pay about triple the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) to the SIIA. After the attorneys take their cut, a portion of the settlement payment is returned to the aggrieved software vendor and the remainder is left to finance the SIIA’s anti-piracy endeavors.

Kupferschmid said the SIIA only pursues about 25 percent of the online tips it receives each year and collects “millions” in settlement payments.

Company officials at both Autodesk and Florida Benchmark weren’t immediately available to comment on the settlement agreement.

The SIIA said it originally contacted Florida Benchmark in April 2006, offering it a chance to resolve the copyright-infringement claims through the voluntary audit and gave it the opportunity to provide whatever licensing documentation it had for the Autodesk software. Florida Benchmark refused to cooperate so the SIIA filed a lawsuit in February to enforce Autodesk’s copyrights.

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