Symantec's CIO on piracy, new licensing portal

Thompson explains Symantec's new licensing system that he expects will save the company more than US$10m per year

Symantec launched a new online software licensing program on Nov. 6, about the same time it unveiled Veritas Backup Exec 11d. Users are complaining that they have to wait for Backup Exec upgrade notices because of a backlog of people trying to register on the new licensing site. Symantec's CIO, David Thompson, and public relations manager, Cris Paden, told Computerworld that the new licensing system is necessary to help thwart a "humongous" piracy ring that has been costing Symantec more than US$10 million every year. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Read about why users are angry about slow tech support service and the new licensing portal here.

Users say there's a logjam in getting their backup software upgrades due to the launch of the combined Symantec/Veritas licensing portal. What's going on?

Thompson: With regard to the new licensing processes that we've put in place, both companies did licensing just slightly different in certain products. The current feedback we're getting from clients is there have been some challenges around a very small subset of our customer base that are previous Veritas clients who use the Backup Exec product. As part of our new release and process, we're now asking all of our clients to register as a client and also to obtain their license keys through that registration process.

One other reason we consolidated our licensing process was to mitigate and reduce our exposure to software piracy. We've had some challenges with that in certain regions. The one consolidated licensing model is one way to ensure the client that purchased the product is the client who's using the product.

Paden: I've handled the communications for our antipiracy teams for the last four or five years. Symantec had gone through this licensing process for Symantec products back in the summer of '03 to be able to address the piracy issue that blew up then. What we're basically doing is installing the same process for the Veritas products regarding the licensing keys.

What are you doing to attack those piracy rings?

Paden: It's a syndicate that's here in North America and Canada. I'll try to add historical context by saying that if we don't [add Veritas users], this piracy will continue to happen. By the summer of 2003, we were loosing half a billion dollars a year due to counterfeit software. Once we introduced the licensing process, we were able to knock that down into maybe the single digits in terms of millions [of dollars], maybe double digits, but going from half a billion down to US$10 million or less shows the effectiveness of it. The problems we're dealing with right now as far as transitioning customers through the new licensing process is minimal in terms of what our support people would endure if they were having to deal with customers using fake or counterfeit versions of Backup Exec. It's a growing problem that we're trying to head off at the pass. In a couple of weeks, we should be able to make some type of announcement, and when we do, you'll see the dollar numbers we're talking about. It's in the eight figures.

How long have you been dealing with this piracy ring?

Paden: Our team had been investigating this piracy ring for the last two and a half years. That's pre-Veritas. But as the investigation continued and it grew -- this is a rather large syndicate -- then of course when we acquired Veritas, we scooped up that issue, too.

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