Partners to Microsoft: Don't Make Us Licensing Police

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Microsoft partners think it's great that the vendor has been aggressively battling software piracy. But some partners say the task of ensuring that their clients are in compliance with Microsoft's Byzantine software licensing structure is steadily growing more difficult.

Making matters worse, several sources told CMP Channel that Microsoft sometimes expects partners to act as foot soldiers in its ongoing campaign against so-called 'unintentional' software piracy by reporting organizations that aren't in compliance, which is threatening their role as trusted advisors to their clients.

Microsoft licensing has numerous wrinkles and is notoriously complex, which means it's easy for users to violate the terms, says Scott Braden, senior Microsoft analyst at Miro Consulting, Fords, N.J. "Microsoft's reps usually only have to ask a few questions about how you're doing things in order to tell you that you're doing something illegal," said Braden.

While Microsoft doesn't explicitly require partners to act as enforcers of its licensing terms, solution providers say there have been cases in which they've been pressured by Microsoft to blow the whistle on software license violators.

"My concern is always being placed into the position of 'licensing police'," said one Gold level partner. "While we will never sell or recommend nor implement any level of piracy, as the customer's trusted advisor, we cannot be placed into the position of enforcing a vendor's licensing."

Some solution providers feel that Microsoft hasn't been clear enough about whether partners would be held liable in cases where their customers are caught using improperly licensed " or pirated -- software.

"The scenarios we worry about are things like customer acquisition: If we pick up a new customer and they aren't licensed properly, and we support them, what would happen?" said the source.

"I believe it's the customer's responsibility to use the software correctly, and mine to advise them, but would Microsoft come after us in this scenario?" added the source.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the vendor's license agreements state that the customer holds responsibility for their software acquisitions and license compliancy.

Microsoft's licensing rules have grown more complex with the release of Windows Vista and the vendor's introduction of new licensing terms for certain core products, according to solution providers.

Next: VARs Face Compliance Pressures

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