The Software Sheriff's in Town
More than 150 years ago, one of North America's leading industries was cattle ranching. In those days, cowboys spent the majority of their time tending cattle and ensuring safe delivery to market. Today, technology—software, in particular—is one of the leading industries, and just as the cattle ranchers of yesteryear branded their livestock and hunted down poachers, software ranchers do the same today.
These days, branding takes the form of serial numbers, and the offenders are no longer hunted down by a posse with guns blazing. Instead, the penalty du jour is purely financial. We all know and understand the implications of "borrowing" software, but as the majority of software developers have not made a practice of challenging perpetrators, most users aren't fanatical about keeping track of software licenses. But, be warned; change is afoot, and even though it may take time to record your licenses, it's cheaper than paying fines.
The software industry's official sheriff is the Business Software Alliance (BSA) in Washington, DC. They take calls and tip-offs from anyone, and in certain cases, follow up with an on-site audit. Trying to find anyone who's gone through an audit (and found guity) to talk is virtually impossible, but one individual was willing to speak anonymously. I'll call him 'Bob.'
Bob confirmed that his prepress firm went through an audit last year and was subject to fines and additional software purchases to the tune of a quarter-million dollars. Now, it's one thing if a company intentionally steals software, but Bob says they did not. They may simply have been guilty of falling into a common trap.
As computers age and are taken out of mainstream production, applications are often left behind on the harddrive. The replacement equipment is then installed and the application is reloaded with the original serial number. It's a mistake not meant to be malicious, akin perhaps to cattle wandering onto another farmer's ranch. But to the BSA, using any software without the appropriate license is illegal.