The Problem of Anticompetitive Software Licensing Practices
With factors like the global pandemic reshaping the economy, organizations are expediting plans to migrate software from on-premises servers to services in the cloud to reduce overhead costs, enhance business capabilities, and strengthen cybersecurity. This move to the cloud brings strong benefits to customers, but is viewed as threat by some entrenched software providers who have established themselves as gatekeepers to digital transformation.
Organizations typically rely on a few key software companies to provide productivity, collaboration, & communication tools; databases; and core operating systems. With more organizations moving to the cloud, some software companies are employing restrictive licensing practices that allow them to leverage their entrenched position in IT to act as gatekeepers and dictate customer choice, innovation, and cost for digital transformation.
While these barriers may vary slightly from organization to organization, the most common scenarios are:
- Using restrictive and non-negotiable licensing terms that prohibit customers running business software (i.e., productivity suites) paid for and used on-premises from doing so on the cloud provider of their choice;
- Requiring customers to run licensed software only on dedicated hardware, increasing the cost of operations and reducing the efficiencies presented by alternative cloud providers;
- Conditioning discounts for bulk software licenses on the purchase of the software vendor’s cloud services;
- Amending the terms of customer contracts through the use of non-contractual documentation; and
- Using the “ABCs” or the predatory tactic of “Audit, Bargain, Close” to lock in customers to the legacy provider’s cloud services.
Regardless of the tactic, the result is the same: reduced cloud migration choice, increased customer costs, and harm to competition, innovation, and growth in the cloud services. Rather than capitalizing on digital transformation to drive their organizations forward and improve operational resiliency, CIOs and CTOs are left diverting outsized time and energy to navigating overly restrictive, complicated, and opaque software licensing options.
An International Effort
The Coalition for Fair Software Licensing is a part of a large movement highlighting the importance of fair and transparent software licensing terms for cloud services and the limiting impact that certain business practices have on growth, opportunity, investment, and security. First launched in France as a collaboration of CISPE (the Association of Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe) and CIGREF (a CIOs’ association representing over 150 French organizations, mostly the largest listed companies on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange) in April 2021, the Fair Software Licensing Principles have since gathered the support of organizations representing interests ranging from cloud service startups and their venture funders to CIOs and customer companies in the UK, throughout the EU (including Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark), and Israel. The Coalition for Fair Software Licensing is aligned with these parallel efforts and their commitment to changing current business dynamics through the adoption of the Fair Software Licensing Principles, well beyond North America, while also highlighting the unique issues that our North American customers face.