A Texas hospital has paid a $103,500 fine to the computer industry's software police for, among other things, operating a spreadsheet without a license.
Columbia Bayshore Medical Center in Pasadena settled with an anti-piracy watchdog group called the Business Software Alliance after someone called the BSA's hotline and spilled details about unlicensed programs on the 353-bed hospital's computers.
Confronted with the evidence, Bayshore conducted an audit that revealed many more copies of word processing, spreadsheet and database programs than there were licenses to support, said Bob Kruger, BSA's vice president of enforcement.
The Washington-based not-for-profit organization is deputized by software companies, including Microsoft Corp., to fight piracy on their behalf. Their power of attorney permits BSA to sue offenders or use that legal leverage to reach settlements, Kruger said.
Bayshore officials said they were unaware of the transgressions. In a statement they said, "BSA alerted us to a problem that had grown without our knowledge, and we immediately acted to correct it by purchasing necessary software licenses and placing tight restrictions and (conducting) periodic audits to avoid a recurrence."
Hospital employees were bringing software from home and installing it in the workplace, said Bayshore spokeswoman Jeanna Jenkins.
That practice is too common, and BSA is committed to stop it, Kruger said. The group brings lawsuits or seeks penalty payments on top of the purchase of software licenses so companies don't "wait around until they get caught and then do what they should have done in the first place."
BSA pockets the settlement money, "reinvesting" it in education and investigation efforts against software piracy. "Our job in part is to put ourselves out of business," Kruger said.
Whistleblowers are key to the effort. But unlike the federal government, BSA does not hand out rewards to employees who call about their employers' illegal activities. Although the group would get more reports that way, Kruger said people would "call for the wrong reasons" and be more interested in the money than in supplying accurate information.
Other hospitals have been nailed in the past, but Kruger could recall only one other case, a $161,000 settlement with Provident Hospital in Chicago in November 1996.