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I work as an engineer for a very small company which is specialized in mechanical engineering design & simulation. Since I arrived here almost 2 years ago, we have been using cracked softwares to do most of our technical tasks (CAD, simulation, calculation, etc...) which is basically everything we're doing. I was never comfortable with that, and whenever possible, I'd always switched to an open source alternative even though the changes were not always accepted very well by my colleagues or my boss.

Anyway, my boss (the CEO) is very stingy, he's not very technical although he's kind of managing the team. He doesn't see the benefit of buying licences. I tried to tell him that I was bothered using cracked software, because we're regularly running into bugs & problems we don't know how to deal with, that I waste a lot of time trying to figure my way out and tinkering solutions. Also I tried to tell him that paying a license for at least one or two of those softwares means we can have support, formations, which means we become more proficient therefore we can be more profitable for him. But he's avoiding the subject, he's delaying, he's lying about it. He doesn't even want to contact sales to have at least an idea of what could be the cost (even though I know it's not a small investment). I suppose he's been doing this for years and he's not worried of the risks.

I even tried to convince him once by telling him what happens to the companies that get caught doing that (I know someone who works for FEA software company, he knows my situation and told me about what he knows from the anti-crack team in his company). If it happens for us, then it is bankruptcy for sure.

What is my responsibility in being aware of it, and by using those softwares on a daily basis? Should I be worried for my job and my colleagues' jobs? Should I back-off on this topic and stop bringing it up? It tends to create tension between me and the rest of the company (the others don't really care), because it highlights the fact that I don't like the ethical behaviour of my boss generally speaking.

I also should add that I've been looking for a new job that's different from what I'm currently doing, but the pandemic situation has made it more difficult.

Thanks for your attention

Edit1:

Concerning my area, I work in France.

I've heard that the Software Companies mostly track down "big fishes", and when they do find one, they usually put the fraudster on the spot and leave him no choice but to make a bad deal by buying licenses to avoid prosecution. I don't think we enter in this category, but to me it doesn't matter. Best case, I end up losing my job, worst case I end up in prison. I thought about "blackmailing" my boss by telling him that if he doesn't make any effort to do legit business, I might turn him in. But I don't see any good ending to that story.

I know there are a lot of companies out there that are not willing to pay the full price for what they're actually using. I don't blame them; maybe the market is at fault I don't know. But still, the facts show that I'm aware of the situation.

When I mentioned Open Source Alternatives, to be explicit when I arrived here I switched from Matlab (unlicensed) to GNU Octave and tried to convince my colleagues to do the same. It is basically the exact same tool, at least the way we're using it. But for those who know a little bit about the CAD/FEA software industry, there's no easy way around the licensed softwares. And all the more when you start to want to use more complex tools/functions.

Based on all of your answers, I'm going to contact a lawyer soon. There's no written proof that I brought up this topic several times with my boss and my colleagues. I'm still thinking about writing an email but I have to think about how to put it in a way that doesn't raise more tension and make my boss suspicious about my intentions. I don't trust/like him, so I wish to move on to another job quickly. If that is the case, I don't intend to turn the company in, whatever the reward. I know there could be a lesson for my boss here but jobs are at stake.

Edit2:

The CEO is also the owner of the company yes. He's more like a business man that has other incomes than our small engineering company. He works with us let's say 30/40% of his time, the rest of his time he's involved in consulting for other companies, boards, real estate...(he doesn't share much about it).

Someone said in the comments that I am overthinking this. I have also told myself the same thing for quite some time, this is mainly why I accepted this situation for so long. But because we're doing engineering here, most of the time we're designing parts & components for amateur aircraft industry. We're supposedly "covered by insurances if anything happens with what we deliver" (according to my boss at least... I don't really know what's worth). I keep imagining what will happen the day something happens with what we designed. We might get in serious trouble just because we don't have the legitimacy to say that we have calculated parts with reliable/legit means. I'm not saying that the use of a licensed software takes away the responsibility here, but you keep some credibility. Hence the need to have at least one license for delivering studies.

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A wolf remains a wolf, even if he has not eaten your sheep.

Your CEO has demonstrated a clear lack of respect for ethics and the law, just because he hasn't gotten around to screwing you over doesn't mean he won't do so if the opportunity arises.

  • Document everything.
  • Update your resume
  • Move on to other employment
  • See a lawyer

**Now as to your specific questions

What is my responsibility in that by being aware of it, by using those softs on a daily basis ?

This depends on the laws of your area, thus, the recommendation to see a lawyer.

Should I be worried for myself in addition of my colleagues and myself's jobs ?

Until you see a lawyer, yes. Then follow their advice

Should I back-off on this topic and stop bringing it up ?

Yes, you've met your obligation to the company by bringing it up. Document that fact, then move on. You've already marked yourself as "not a team player", not that you'd want to be part of such an unethical team.

You should be concerned about ethics, as an unethical person is an unethical person. You can't trust them to be ethical in their dealings towards you. Go with your gut instincts, they are usually right.

When you consult with the lawyer, see if there is any sort of reward for turning in companies that use cracked software. You might be able to make a few bucks, and keep your conscience clean.

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    Reminder to all that the main reason "talk to a lawyer" is a key part of this answer, is that we have neither the facts nor the knowledge required to provide legal advice here. Please avoid starting up discussions on that topic and use comments only for their intended purpose.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 4 '20 at 13:50
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Cracked software has two different issues:

  1. The (lack of) license, which depending on your location could be illegal and hence open your company to legal processes and damages.

  2. The unknown provenance of the software you are using, which means various types of malware could have been introduced to your systems - which could also open your company to legal processes and damages (EG what if some malware was used to set up hosting of illegal content on your systems?)

Both issues are bad, and by your question your morals seem to object to at least the first situation. Yet your boss and colleagues don't seem to care about either issue.

As you have rightfully pointed out this difference in morals is causing you conflict, and that you are looking for other work. IMHO there is nothing you can do about the rest of the company and your best bet is to procure other employment and hang off quitting from your current company for as long as you can (and yes I know what that means in times of covid, it's taken me 5 months to get back to work).

Depending on how you feel, there is one possible silver lining. If you document your companies licensing transgressions, and then after you have obtained new employment you report them to the appropriate authorities, then you may be eligible for a reward.

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Some good answers here already, but I wanted to touch on a couple of extra points.

The combination of "aircraft parts" and "FEA software" is particularly concerning. For those unfamiliar with it, FEA is a tool commonly used for analysing stresses in structures e.g. machine parts. (It has other applications, but that's the most obvious one in this context.)

I would be worried about a scenario along the following lines:

  • FEA company discovers a bug in its software
  • FEA company issues an alert to licensed users and warns them to patch and recheck work
  • OP's poster, not being a licensed user, misses this alert and continues using the buggy version to design parts
  • Part fails, Bad Things Happen, ranging from "nobody hurt but investigation turns up the piracy and you get prosecuted" to "somebody dies and people go to jail for negligent homicide" (or whatever the French equivalent is).
  • Insurance company refuses to pay out, because using unlicensed/unsupported FEA software probably violates something in the terms and conditions.

Also: even if the cracked software never ends up biting you... if your boss is prepared to break the law to save money here, it's likely he's cutting corners on other things as well. In the airline parts industry, that's the kind of thing that can go very badly wrong.

One way or another, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Get out as soon as you can, and report it as a matter of public safety. If you can get a bounty for reporting the cracked software, so much the better.

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  • You just summed up my worst fear. Thanks for your help
    – user121926
    Nov 4 '20 at 8:22
  • @Foussy While I agree with posters who've advised you to move on to a new employer as soon as reasonably practicable (then report this to an appropriate regulator, if your conscience hasn't forced you to do so earlier), one way to mitigate the risk of this "worst fear" in the meantime might be to verify your (and your colleagues'?) simulations using octave-bim, octave-fem-fenics, Elmer, or FreeFEM++. But it'll mean an awful lot of work for you, so it can only be a very short-term workaround. Nov 6 '20 at 12:32
  • @DanielHatton Unfortunately I can't afford to be unemployed right now, but I am pretty confident about my ability to find a job, if not in what I aim, at least I can get something very similar to what I currently doing. I'm looking for a position more like "scientific programmer" than "pure mechanical engineer", something that involves more coding and less CAD manipulation. Honestly, I think there's a only a tiny chance that a game-changing error has crept inside our simulations because of software issues. It'll more probably come from human mistakes than anything else
    – user121926
    Nov 6 '20 at 14:05
  • @DanielHatton Also, my role in the team is to take care of subjects that involves composite material structures. I don't know if you are familiar with it but not every FEA software implements well the use of composites. From my experience, most of the time you're stuck with basic things and your options are very limited. I will take a look at Elmer or FreeFEM++ though when I'll have more time. Thanks
    – user121926
    Nov 6 '20 at 14:18
  • I've supervised a couple of bachelor's dissertations involving FEA simulation of composite materials, so I'm aware that it can be a bit of a nightmare. But one could argue that, if you're using a proprietary FEA system that doesn't handle anisotropy and heterogeneity adequately, you really are stuck with that inadequacy, whereas if you're using an open source system, you at least have some chance of extending it to make it handle those things adequately. Nov 6 '20 at 14:45
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Since I arrived here almost 2 years ago, we have been using cracked softwares to do most of our technical tasks (CAD, simulation, calculation, etc...) which is basically everything we're doing.

Let me ask you an honest question... is this your first gig? I ask because it is surprisingly common for these sort of companies to use cracked software. As a matter of fact I remember a sort of sweat shop located in a remote airport hanger that I knew someone worked at. He was a animator using a cracked 3ds max software. Apparently they all used cracked versions of it and they had one actual licensed copy of it. The license for these software can cost upwards to about 30-40k depending on how many of them they need. So a lot of these smaller shops would have 1 actual licensed machine that they would use to do everything production wise.

As far as what you can do about it, maybe you can ask your boss if he is willing to do a subscription based service instead. They are generally a lot cheaper and you get the full blown software plus support/upgrades for upwards to a year. At the very least you can have 1 workstation with the legit software.

As far as legal troubles, yes, you can get into some trouble depending on the circumstances and your knowledge of how deep it goes. My advice is to write an email to your boss explaining the software subscription I mentioned above. At the very least, you have a paper evidence that you tried to bring it up. Again we're not lawyers here so you might want to double check into that but I would argue that it entirely depends on your knowledge of what is going on and regardless of you simply working there won't get you out of any sort of legal troubles. It's sort of like if a bank told their workers to not report certain things, and although the person who told it would get into the most trouble, the people who didn't report it can also.

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  • Yes it is more or less my first significative long term job as an engineer. But I'm aware that many company are working this way. Some friends told me the same. Having one legit license would be a first big step and I'll be happy if my boss would truly consider making this investment. But we're far from it as it seems. Thanks for your reply !
    – user121926
    Nov 2 '20 at 20:54
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My boss makes me using cracked software. What should be my position?

You mentioned that there are open source alternatives, start using those and stop using the cracked software. As long as they produce a usable output, don't worry about your colleagues' or boss' acceptance. The last thing you want is to be complicit in using cracked software.

You have already given the boss every reason for why the company should not be using this software and it has fallen on deaf ears.

Other than that, you are already taking the best course of action which is finding a new company to work for.

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    OP has clarified that the OS alternatives only cover some parts of the work. Nov 4 '20 at 1:55
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Do what you're told. If you're told to use cracked software, then use cracked software. If you're told not to buy licenses, then don't buy licenses. You're an engineer, not a lawyer, and the legal aspects are not your problem. Your responsibility begins and ends when you tell your manager (not even the CEO, just your manager) "hey, we probably shouldn't be doing this, are you sure?"; that's all you need to do, the rest is not your problem.

Now, if you are running into issues with the software that could be solved by paying for a license, and that's impacting your performance, then you can raise that as an issue: "I could work better/faster if you'd buy a license". But again, that's where your responsibility ends. It's about what impact this issue has on you, personally, and your output for the company, and nothing else is your problem.

The other issue, of course, is what happens if your company is found out to be using these applications illegally. As you said, lawsuits, lawyer fees, and probably bankruptcy. This means your company won't have money to pay you and you won't have a job or a salary if this happens. And so, my suggestion is to find another job ASAP, so you're not in the middle of the mess when it happens.

Edit: @Old_Lamplighter mentioned in the comments that you could be legally liable personally for using the cracked software despite management. You may want to look into whether you could face personal legal challenges with regard to this; if this is the case in your locale, you should probably find a new job as immediately as possible, although this being Covid and not sure of the market in your area I think I'd stop short of telling you to quit immediately, because paying rent is important.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 4 '20 at 13:54
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It is unfortunate that you are in this situation. A company which has any respect for their employees would not put them in this position. Many companies do not have the budget to buy every bit of flash any random employee may request, but there is no reason to not provide the tools necessary to perform the job.

I have worked with companies which could (would) not provide licenses for products which would make my job easier. In my situation I will purchase my own license for the tools I want. When I leave I take my license with me. With one particular tool, after my manager or coworkers saw the efficiencies it provides three companies purchased site licenses. Two actually offered reimbursement for my personal license.

You have the option to purchase your own license and allow the business to face their own consequences. If you aren't earning enough to cover the cost of the license -- I'm aware some licenses can cost thousands per seat -- than you aren't being paid commensurate with your experience. Having the skill to operate those titles proficiently should put you in a pay bracket where they are affordable.

You should actively be looking for a better work environment either way.

TLDR;

  1. Buy your own licenses
  2. Find greener pastures

Follow up This answer is intentionally not giving the standard "just quit" response. Many of the other answers on this question can be summed up as "suck it up" or "this is bad".

For those who claim this is not possible or reasonable, I do it myself as pointed out above. Also for an independent contractor this really is the only option.

Aside from the legal and ethical arguments I provide above, Having your own personal license opens the door to being able to do your own contracting consulting on the side as well for a financial reason.

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    Impractical advice. I work with software that costs £100k which obviously isn't something I'm going to be able to afford. Buying your own isn't the right solution.
    – scotty3785
    Nov 3 '20 at 9:29
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    One thing to be aware of. Often personal licenses do not cover commercial use. Even commercial licenses owned by an individual may only cover the business / person paying for it. -- Unless you fully understand the legal terms of the license I certainly would not recommend this approach.
    – flexi
    Nov 3 '20 at 12:22
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    "If you aren't earning enough to cover the cost of the license -- I'm aware some licenses can cost thousands per seat -- than you aren't being paid commensurate with your experience." - How can you possibly determine that based on the information provided by the author? I am paid more than enough, for somebody in my field, but even I would struggle purchasing every software license I need for my job.
    – Donald
    Nov 3 '20 at 15:45
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    Yeah, this isn't practical advice for engineering software in commercial use. These products can easily cost tens of thousands of Euros with hefty renewal fees. It's not like buying MS Office. Nov 4 '20 at 1:52
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    @psaxton - I am paid more than enough for somebody in my field. Just because I could afford any software licensed, does not mean, I can justify the cost of doing so. I am not willing to purchase CAD software, if I need CAD software in order to do my engineering work, then my employer will have to purchase it.
    – Donald
    Nov 4 '20 at 16:03

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