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US Navy hit with $600 million lawsuit for software piracy

The US government generally believes software piracy is bad. This doesn’t stop individual members of Congress or the government from occasionally pirating their own software, or using video and audio assets without permission, but it’s supposed to prevent piracy on an organizational scale. According to massive lawsuit against the US Navy, that’s not what happened.

The suit was brought by Bitmanagement Software GmbH, a company specializing in visualization software for geographic data. The program in question, BS Contact Geo, is designed for GIS (geographic information system) visualization and can be used to create architectural visualizations of real-world cities and landmarks and photorealistic city models, for urban planning and development and for flight animations. It superficially looks like the kind of software package you might license to provide terrain and city data if you were building a flight simulator.

The lawsuit claims that Bitmanagement Software agreed to provide the Navy with 38 PC licenses to facilitate “testing, trial runs, and integration into Navy systems.” The Navy apparently asked that Bitmanagement disable the DRM it uses to limit software installations in order to test the software on the full range of relevant military equipment. Evidently this early pilot program went well, and the Navy determined it would deploy the software at scale and entered negotiations with Bitmanagement Software.

The suit (as reported by The Register) notes:

In October 2013, Bitmanagement executives received forwarded emails indicating that BS Contact Geo had already been deployed on at least 104,922 Navy computers. This deployment was part of a larger rollout of software onto at least 558,466 computers on the Navy’s network.

The suit claims that the Navy began disabling the “Flexwrap” software that Bitmanagement used to track deployments in early 2014. This was a further violation of the trial license that Bitmanagement had given the Navy. For the past few years, Bitmanagement has tried to resolve this situation, including negotiating a per-seat license fee (at a set value of $1,067.76) and to bring the Navy’s deployment into legal compliance. All of these efforts were reportedly rebuffed, and the suit states the Navy continues to use Bitmanagement’s software illegally.

BS-Contact-Geo

Lawsuit filings are always written from the perspective of the aggrieved party, but this case seems straightforward. Bitmanagement is alleging that the US military signed an agreement to deploy 38 copies of its software as part of a pilot program that, if successful, would lead to a large licensing deal. The US Navy reneged on that deal and Bitmanagement wants to be paid for the use of its products.

There is at least some evidence that BS Geo is telling the truth. Late last year, the Navy published a job posting for a programmer who could perform software development and configuration for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s Facilities Integrated Product Support (IPS) Program. The job offer states:

One of the requirements of the position was to establish an interface between the SPIDERS 3D visualization tool and other software packages. The post specifically acknowledges that SPIDERS 3D is based on BS Content Geo commercial off-the-shelf software.

Obviously one job posting doesn’t mean the Navy had installed software to over half a million computers, but it certainly implies that the Navy is using the software in some capacity. As of this writing, the military has not responded to requests for comment.

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