Forever 21 is a $3.8 billion clothing retailer, operating about 480 retail outlets around the world. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Forever 21 caters to young female shoppers, but some of their outlets also offer men’s and plus size clothing. While many small, ill-funded, and startup companies might make a legitimate case that they were unaware of software licensing issues, or perhaps unable to afford the licenses, such is not the case for Forever 21.
Back in January 2015, American software giant Adobe Systems Inc filed suit against Forever 21 for licensing infringements involving at least 63 illegal uses of products including Photoshop, Acrobat, and Illustrator. Apparently, after Adobe moved to a cloud-subscription based model for their popular products, Forever 21 obtained pirated copies and continued using the products without paying the licensing fees. Even after Adobe confronted the clothing retailer about these infringements, use of the unlicensed products continued, putting to rest any question that this was a mistake.
American software development company Autodesk Inc and Canadian software development company Corel joined Adobe’s lawsuit against Forever 21. These companies claim the clothing retailer also pirated copies of their popular products Autodesk, WinZip, PaintShopPro, and others.
Adobe’s lawsuit claims it was, “willful, intentional, and malicious copyright infringement,” and seeks compensation for lost revenue related to the pirated products, as well as an injunction against the company, court costs, and other damages.
What can the IT service desk learn from this lawsuit?
Don’t Be “Those Guys”
It still isn’t clear how Adobe and the other software companies caught Forever 21, but one likely scenario is a disgruntled employee ratting them out. Naturally, staying on top of licensing and compliance is essential. But being kind to your employees means that if there is an inadvertent slip here or there, your employees won’t turn you in. Instead, they’ll work hard to help you stay in compliance and avoid fines or lawsuits.
Initiate a Solid Asset Management Plan
IT asset management is essential, not only for tracking software licenses, but for making sure your costs for both hardware and software are in check. An asset management system informs you when licenses are up for renewal, so you don’t find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit like the one involving Forever 21.
Don’t Depend on Size or a Good Reputation to Save You
Perhaps Forever 21 thought that they were too big to get in trouble. Size brings a certain air of invulnerability. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your business is too big, too sound, or too untouchable to get called out on software licensing infringement.
Don’t Think That Businesses Outside the Tech World are Immune
It’s also possible that Forever 21 thought that the fashion world was somehow immune to software licensing issues. Wrong again. Even if your business falls outside the tech industry, you’re still held accountable to the same laws.
Ethical Compromise in Any Area is a Dangerous Path
Previously, Forever 21 has faced allegations that they were also out of compliance concerning employee safety issues and copyright infringement, an accusation made by various clothing brands. Obviously, this means that the business’ leadership had a tendency to color outside the lines when it comes to the law. By refusing to take the first step toward impropriety, you can avoid the whole slippery slope of ethics and legal violations.
Staying Up to Date on Licensing Is Cheaper Than the Alternative
It’s true that software licenses aren’t cheap. As more developers move toward subscription-based models (like Adobe’s move to the cloud), these licenses aren’t getting any cheaper. However, the alternative is getting caught, which comes along with even steeper fees, penalties, fines, and perhaps even court costs and other damages. In the long run, it’s far more affordable to purchase the software legally to begin with and use an asset management system to keep those licenses up to date.
More recently Forever 21 denied pirating the software. “Bundled” and “fair use” were also terms used in Forever 21’s denial, however, the “jury” is still out.