BSA red-faced as Kaspersky quits over SOPA support

US anti-piracy legislation continues to divide industry

Kaspersky Lab has unexpectedly quit the Business Software Alliance (BSA) anti-piracy organisation over its tacit support for the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation currently being debated in the US House of Representatives.

Having joined the BSA only 18 months ago, the Russian company said it would discontinue its membership on 1 January 2012.

"Kaspersky Lab is aware of the public controversy and debates sparked by the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Kaspersky Lab is occasionally mentioned in the discussion as a member of the Business Software Alliance, which supports the SOPA initiative," read Kaspersky's statement.

"Kaspersky Lab would like to clarify that the company did not participate in the elaboration or discussion of the SOPA initiative and does not support it. Moreover, the company believes that the SOPA initiative might actually be counter-productive for the public interest, and decided to discontinue its membership."

The BSA recently soft-peddled its previously robust support for SOPA in a blog but that clearly wasn't good enough for Kaspersky, which also implied that it hadn't been consulted on the BSA's policy towards the legislation.

"Valid and important questions have been raised about the bill. It is intended to get at the worst of the worst offenders. As it now stands, however, it could sweep in more than just truly egregious actors," said the BSA president Robert Holleyman in a blog on 21 November.

However, in a carefully-crafted statement he refused to acknowledge more specific criticisms of a piece of legislation that has deeply divided the technology industry.

It would be an understatement to say that SOPA has not been universally welcomed by computer and Internet companies. In the US, it has been billed as a culture clash between the established but slowly fading lobbying power of Hollywood that wants action taken over the illegal downloading of content and the newer and more global influence of Silicon Valley that sees SOPA as unnecessary overkill.

The BSA's problem is that as a matter of policy it adopts a hard-line anti-piracy stance and can't therefore simply dismiss SOPA out of hand for fear of undermining this hard-fought position. Equally, its members are software companies with Internet interests that might be affected by the legislation in negative ways.

The BSA responded to Kaspersky's departure with a neutral statement.

"We are very disappointed to learn that Kaspersky Labs may not renew their membership in BSA, especially given we share many of their concerns over SOPA. Kaspersky has been a valued member of BSA over the past two years, and we look forward to working with them again in the future," said BSA vice president of government relations, Katherine McGuire.

The BSA's remaining members include Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, CA, Dell, Intel, McAfee, Symantec as well as European anti-virus vendor AVG. Short term, Kaspersky's departure will be seen a little more than embarrassing.

In the UK and beyond, the BSA has become controversial for its pursuit of usually small companies which it publically 'names and shames' for alleged unlicensed use of software. It also operates a bounty program whereby employees can collect cash sums in return for informing on their companies software use.

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