True Lie(cense)s

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Remember the expired version of Windows that we use with impunity? Or the hacked piece of software we use because we got an authorisation key from somewhere when we clearly weren’t authorised to do that? In most cases, we never look back twice when some things like these happen, but some of us might want to reconsider this decision of ours.

A few days ago, students and faculty across the campus got an email from the Computer Centre (CC) saying that the institute had been formally served a licence non-compliance notice from a major proprietary software developer because a number of people inside the institute were using the above software in an unauthorised manner. We decided to get an insight into the matter and had a talk with Prof Varsha Apte, Head of the CC on this.

While Prof Apte deemed it too early to name the software developer or the software in question, she said that the institute got the notice close to a month back. Generally such instances of formal notices from companies are rare (this is the first time it is happening in Prof Apte’s tenure and she doesn’t recollect anything like this in recent times). For now, the institute has close to 20-30 people who have been found to be in possession of a hacked version of the software, which is a sufficiently niche software ( “it’s not Microsoft Office, okay”, Prof Apte had quipped humorously).

The most surprising aspect of this episode is that the institute has all the requisite licences for the software yet the students/faculty went ahead with getting unauthorised copies of the same. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the same, Prof Apte’s presumes that it mostly concerns with people’s ignorance/apathy when it comes to checking whether the institute is offering the software. Another way in which this could’ve happened is when people buy devices with pre-loaded softwares (this is more likely for popular softwares than the one in question), something that the institute sadly has no control over. Prof Apte said that the CC is exploring ways to preempt things like this, like better real-time tracking. She did say that the institute is generally very cautious when it comes to such things. To quote Prof Apte, the institute’s general conservative approach towards ports is driven by this very caution.

While the CC may, in theory, be able to do real time tracking of such cases and prevent any such non-compliances, given the sheer number of users in the institute, the CC lacks resources and manpower on this scale. To increase the interaction of the CC with students, for the past few months, Research Assistants (RAs) under CC are visiting hostels thrice a week, purely for assisting people when it comes to software related issues. The fact that most people still aren’t aware of this facility is something the CC intends to work on.

The institute is, for now, actively tracking down the users who’re in possession of the unauthorised copies and asking them to delete the same, after which a proper report will be submitted to the software developer. Neither the institute nor the developer has decided on any further action thereon.

What should you, as a student, do in this situation?

Delete any such unauthorised copies in your possession ASAP. This notice might serve as a precedent for more stringent scrutiny from both developers and the institute and it serves to be safe than sorry. In the long run, Prof Apte suggests that the students are more proactive in their demands relating to softwares. There have been instances where the CC has spent lakhs of rupees for softwares which are being used merely by a handful of people. A better coordination between the Middle Layer Committee (MLC) and CC, and robust communication from the students to the CC will solve all the issues, Prof Apte added optimistically.

The CC website has a list of softwares that the institute has licences to, something which students should look up in case they need something. Of course, in case there is requirement of anything specific, one can always approach CC representatives or Prof Apte herself. As she pointed out clearly: “Give us a shout if need be. CC is always available”.