This happened last year and I did nothing but it's one regret that I have. I'm not sure how I should have handled this or indeed if I could have done anything.

I'm an IT contractor and last year worked for a multinational (>10k employees) and the team I worked with used a software tool continually on 'trial mode' to do commercial work.. this is against the T&C of said software product. The reason they did this was that the VP in charge didn't want to pay the licence and his statement was something like 'when I did the work, we used x that was free so you don't need to use y'. He did however know that people did use the tool but didn't care as he wasn't paying for the licence.

This angered me as they had the money so could easily afford the licence fee and the company they were 'stealing' from is a small startup and I know a few people who work for this company.

The VP in charge was pretty toxic, not the type of person you could go 'raise' concerns with.

Telling the vendor software company wouldn't help as they can simply deny it was happening and would be my word against theirs.

I don't feel I'm looking any sort of revenge and only for them to simply play by the rules and pay for the product and not rip it off. The company that i worked for were much much bigger than the software vendor company.

Any advice of what I should/could do?

  • I don´t see this as your problem. Be honest to yourself, do you want to get even with that company or that VP for some perceived or true wrong they did to you ? My advice would be to let it go, in most cases pursuing revenge is not worth it . In case they truly did some harm to you better consult a lawyer, but don't use other companies as an excuse.
    – rs.29
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:10
  • @rs.29 - its a valid point but I don't think this to be case. granted the management were toxic but that is common and seen this many times. i'm more focused on what i maybe could have done when there and for them to simply pay for the tool.
    – Mannie
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:16
  • 3
    If the company has an ethics hotline (which is rapidly becoming both a legal requirement and an "in vogue" concept), you could submit an anonymous report. Commented May 15, 2021 at 14:43
  • 1
    If it repeats, you might consider running it by your contacts in the company making the software (ask for confidentiality to protect yourself). They too may decide it's not worth the fight.
    – Pete W
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 21:03
  • 2
    @PeteW double edged sword, someone there may have a contact in the other company and let them know (in confidence) what their contractor is doing. Once had a receptionist recognise me and quietly inform my employer I was interviewing at her company. Someone there let me know and I got her sacked. Many peoples networks overlap.
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 1:27

6 Answers 6


It's not a current issue for you, so it's a bit late to do anything constructive.

In future as a contractor if you're unhappy with the conditions of employment in any way you can decline to take the contract or complain (this can be career limiting). It all depends on how strongly you feel on a matter.

  • I think you're right - in hindsight i think i don't like when the 'big man' is not playing fair and defrauding a smaller company..
    – Mannie
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:19
  • 6
    No one does, software misuse is a widespread problem, but that doesn't mean it's your hill to die on. There are people paid to deal with such things.
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:20
  • 1
    i don't like when the 'big man' is not playing fair and defrauding a smaller company @Mannie, when has that ever not been the case? I've been in this exact position many times (contracting for multinational which refuses to buy software). Leaving over it was never an option and I would always either a) buy my own licence or b) Shrug and use the approved tools and take way longer (my day rate; their loss) or c) use the trial version and email IT support to advise them.
    – Justin
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 9:13
  • @Walfrat I did, it was interesting.
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 10:51

The given and accepted answer is correct, but I want to highlight a very specific pitfall here. If you are asked to work with this software (outside of its license), and you do so, you may be on the hook for paying damages, because as a contractor, you are a company of your own and your company is legally liable.

This happened to my previous employer $Consultancy. They sent one of their employees $Consultant on a consultancy contract with $Client, where the $Consultant worked with an unlicensed version of a well known PDF generation library.
The unlicensed usage was happening well before $Consultant got involved with the project, but $Consultant was not informed of this. After all, $Consultant assumed that any licensing is the responsibility of $Client, who is expected to make the tools for $Consultant to work the contract available to them.

When the library vendor sued $Client for infractions on its license policy, they also knew which people had been using the unlicensed version, and noticed that $Consultant was on this list of people. They subsequently also included $Consultancy to the court case.

After a short legal battle, the fine was split between $Client and $Consultancy, as both companies had violated the license policy, since such infractions are defined as whose employee(s) committed the infractions.

According to $Consultancy's lawyers, the only way to avoid this if there was reasonable doubt (or direct proof) that $Consultant could not have known the software was unlicensed, but that was sadly not the case here.

After that, we were all explicitly instructed to abjectly refuse to work with unlicensed tools at all clients, at all times. This led to the end of several contracts, but the fines were hefty enough that $Consultancy did not want to go through that again.

  • Wow, nice to know, this is USA or something else ?
    – Walfrat
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 10:36
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    @Walfrat: The court case was USA based. I'm not, but I worked for a (daughter division of) a multinational.
    – Flater
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 11:30

There's almost certainly nothing you can do to change this; if senior management has made a decision, they're not going to change that because a contractor doesn't like it.

Given that, about the only thing you can do is to examine your own personal values and decide how strongly you feel about this. If you feel strongly enough, you can resign and not work with that company any more.

  • its not that 'i don't like' the decision - it's because their decision is not only illegal, its smacks in the face of morality or not paying what they owed..
    – Mannie
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:28
  • 2
    Welcome to the real world. Sometimes people or companies do bad things and get away with it, and there's nothing the little guy can do to change that. Commented May 15, 2021 at 11:45
  • 1
    @Mannie Their decision is probably not illegal, it's just against the terms of the software agreement. It's a breach of contract between the two companies. Commented May 15, 2021 at 15:35
  • It depends on the situation. If you lied to the vendor (like telling them you have five users and paying a license for five user when you know you have 50) to save money, that could be fraud.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 22:46

If the vendor of the software is a member of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), you can file a report about unlicensed software usage. The BSA will investigate your report and potentially take legal action against your company. If your company ends up settling, you might even receive a financial reward from the BSA.


You said: "Telling the vendor software company wouldn't help as they can simply deny it was happening and would be my word against theirs."

No, it wouldn't be your word against theirs, if it went to court. In the USA, for example, if this went to court, then the vendor's lawyer would ask employees of the company whether they used the software. And the important thing there is that an employee lying about this would be committing a serious crime - much more serious than using the software without license. No experienced employee in that situation would lie for their company. So the truth would come out. Same for that VP, lying himself would be a serious crime. But telling employees to lie in court is even worse!

So your choices as a contractor are: Pay a license for yourself, or don't use that software. And in the back of your mind, you can keep that information, and if the company upsets you, you can upset them much worse. Apart from that I'd keep quiet about it.

  • Perjury is a felony in many jurisdictions :)
    – Anthony
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 12:21

Talk to a lawyer about whistle-blowing.

I'm not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice.

It's quite possible that blowing the whistle on your employer might be a viable course of action; depending on location, there might be legal protections in place for whistle-blowers. As a result, if you're considering blowing the whistle on your employer, I would recommend talking to a lawyer about how the local laws would affect you.

Also, if you were to blow the whistle, in this case, it seems likely that the ultimate outcome would be for the company whose software is being illicitly used would be able to sue your employer for violating the terms of its software license; in that case, it wouldn't just be your word against your employer, because the software vendor's lawyers should be able to request all of your employer's records on the subject as a part of discovery.

  • Thanks - the issue was bad enough to annoy me that a huge company could willfully rip off a small company with no recruprissions but not so bad that i would invest money into reconciling this wrong. i've no skin in the game as such except thinking it was wrong and the general agreement has been that there is nothing i could have done except leave the company and forget about it
    – Mannie
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 5:49
  • Laws aren't only what matters, future employers don't have to tell you they refuse you because you whistle-blowed. So it's far better to stay anonymous.
    – Walfrat
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 10:38

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