I work for a very large fortune 500 company who is subcontracted to another fortune 500 company on a DoD contract. As you can guess the red tape is tremendous to do anything.

We have simply shared a VM that is loaded up with Microsoft dev tools from someone elses MSDN subscription. When I have questioned our MSDN licensing, each time I was always told it is in the works. This has been going on for over a year now.

We also have other products that we are using that have a 30 day trial. One developer found an exploit to extend the 30 day trial infinitely, this approach has been encouraged by our management while they get the licensing "worked".

I have contacted 4 levels of managers on this program. No tangible action in over a year now.

What should I do? Report them to Microsoft and the other appropriate software vendors? Contact my companies ethics hotline? STFU and go with the flow?


  • 2
    +1 because it's a great question, but unfortunately also a possible duplicate of Usage of Pirated software at a company
    – Josh K
    Jan 19, 2011 at 16:37
  • 1
    @Josh - both questions are pretty similar. I think the difference is enough to add value to the site. This one is asking about reporting to outside authorities/groups which has much different possible outcomes than reporting it to an internal manager.
    – Walter
    Jan 19, 2011 at 17:20
  • 1
    @Walter: Good point, that's reasonable.
    – Josh K
    Jan 19, 2011 at 18:14

3 Answers 3


Given the size of the companies involved, the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. I think I would notify the ethics office since they should be in a position to bring the two hands together. As others have stated this could very well be a site licensing issue.

Having worked in the software field for long enough I try to make sure software vendors are compensated for the products I use.

  • @Jeff, even Microsoft? ;)
    – Job
    Jan 19, 2011 at 20:06
  • 4
    When you go to the ethics office, make sure you have off-site copies of relevant e-mails where you tell appropriate people about the problems, in case your ethics department is as unethical as your bosses. Jan 19, 2011 at 20:21
  • 2
    @Job yes, you are using their product. I understand MS is a company everybody can hate, at times for good reason. That doesn't give anyone a free pass to act less ethically.
    – Jeff
    Jan 19, 2011 at 20:39
  • @Michael I agree offsite documentation as proof that you took the required steps is important.
    – Jeff
    Jan 19, 2011 at 20:44
  • +1: Keep your evidence in your "smoking gun" file, just in case. Jan 19, 2011 at 22:32

At the end of the day, you need to understand that you are not responsibile for your employers actions when it comes to licensing. If they force you to use unlicensed software and they get audited for their software, it will come down on them, not you. It's their problem, and probably isn't a battle worth fighting.

  • 1
    This is a good point. A more important question is: do I want to work for a monster that large?
    – Job
    Jan 19, 2011 at 20:06
  • George - yes you are correct it is the employers problem - PROVIDED you have brought it to the attention of the management. If you did it without the management consent you will be (rightly) hung out to dry. Jan 19, 2011 at 22:35

In Fortune 500 companies there is often a Master Contract with a vendor like Microsoft that licenses the software in bulk to the company but the internal politics, budgets, product assignment and accounting procedures can hinder distribution internally for years. In other words your company likely has paid for the appropriate licenses but simply has not installed the products correctly. Until you know the dimensions of the Master Contract it is a wise idea not to make too much of an issue. Unless of course, you are a compliance officer and its your job to make an issue of these sorts of things.

  • 1
    There should also be a compliance or s/w licensing person who has a clear responsibility to record s/w licenses in a central register, and who normally arranges purchase or updates records against the master contract. This person should be well known to those in the business who need to purchase and use software. Jan 19, 2011 at 22:33
  • I might add that in this case, last I knew, MSDN subscriptions were tied to a person and thus not even transferable inside a company (let alone between companies). Jan 19, 2011 at 22:34
  • 1
    It's possible to transfer MSDN subscriptions. Also as Kloucks mentioned, there are MSDN Volume Licenses. Most likely his company has one...but they still have to account for usage on a per user basis...and using trial versions is definitely unethical at best. Jan 19, 2011 at 23:22
  • @quickly_now in one of the 3 F-500 companies I worked for the systems people would run automated scans to enumerate installed software and would update their records and the # of licensed seats based on the results of their scan. Additional seats were purchased if needed - BUT no one cared how the software got onto the machines only that the seat was paid for. Worse the people monitoring and paying for the licenses had nothing to do with the internal distribution of licensed software. They did pass all their audits though so reporting them to Microsoft, etc would only get the OP fired.
    – kloucks
    Jan 19, 2011 at 23:49
  • Heh. Where I used to work, everything had to be purchased, there was a central officer, the records were immaculate. The central people also did scans periodically and asked when discrepancies were found. And the company passed its audit from a large well known s/w company with no problems or fines to pay. A first time for everything. Jan 20, 2011 at 0:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.