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I have a colleague who recently joined our team. They're quite keen and want to help out a lot. They've sent out emails to the team with links to a network folder that contains copyrighted/pirated material relevant to the team's work.

This is obviously against company policy. They should have known this as they've been employed with the company in another department before they joined our team. However, I don't know them that well, so I feel I'd be overstepping the mark if I tell them to remove the files and not do that anymore.

I've informed my line manager about it on two occasions, and their response was I should take responsibility and inform the colleague. I am not in a managerial role, I am just a peer although I've been in this team longer.

Am I right to refuse to carry out (what seems to be) the task of my manager?

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    their response was I should take responsibility and inform the colleague. Is your manager actually expecting you to be able to make your colleague stop this behavior or do they just want you to say something? Have they even made their expectations clear? – BSMP Jul 20 '17 at 16:41
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    Or in other words, are they trying to simply delegate their job to you, or trying to shift responsibilities of any risks that may result from the situation? – mpasko256 Jul 20 '17 at 17:23
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    There is a lot that we do not know that is pertinent. I agree that your coworker should know that pirated material cannot be used, but are you sure that that the material is pirated? You noted that this material was on a network folder. To me, that would imply that the material has been vetted and is acceptable to use. Another consideration is the end result. Your company's policy may be so strict (ours is) that use of pirated material - even unintentionally - results in immediate termination. Your manager my want you to step up so he does not have to fire the guy. – Michael J. Jul 20 '17 at 18:19
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    Just send them an email. "I know you're trying to be helpful but we can't have pirated material on the company network. It is against company policy. Please remove it immediately." - the vast majority of people would comply without argument. If they don't then escalate it. – Martin Smith Jul 20 '17 at 18:58
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    Are you sure its pirated? My previous job had a lot of material that was copywritten but we had permission to purchase one copy and share with our team because we purchased software from the company (a large database provider, hint hint). The software license gave us a blanket license to keep the educational materials on our network drive provided we didn't keep it for personal use after we left. – mkingsbu Jul 20 '17 at 20:48

10 Answers 10

213

I've informed my line manager about it on two occasions and the response was that I should take responsibility and inform my colleague instead.

Your manager is completely wrong.

Once your manager was informed about the situation, it became this manager's responsibility to either deal with this issue or choose to leave it alone. Shirking that responsibility is simply poor management. (There's a saying that goes "You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.")

It's completely irresponsible to try and pawn off an awkward task on someone who is not a manager, but is a peer of the new person.

You can choose to be a friend to the new person and provide a gentle reminder about company rules/policy. Or not. It is still your manager's responsibility to deal with this issue, not yours.

54

You were right in bringing up the issue with the manager first. Now your manager's instruction is clear. He has asked you to inform the colleague, so you should do so. If nothing changes, you report it back to the manager and let him figure out what to do next.

It is not uncommon for managers to delegate some management tasks to non-manager team members, especially senior team members. This is sometimes even necessary because people tend to pursue everything that a manager says or does as carrying a "manager tag", which sometimes creates mountains out of molehills.

You are absolutely correct that your colleague should know better than sharing pirated material. Your manager had two options to deal with the issue.

  1. Talk directly to them and ask them to stop sharing pirated material. Whether the manager intends to or not, they will see this as an official reprimand.
  2. Ask a senior team member to talk to them "unofficially". This will hopefully resolve this issue, without the manager getting involved.

There is nothing wrong at all if the manager chose the first option. However, considering that the colleague was trying to be helpful, he probably decided to assume good intentions and give them a chance to save face.

29

Congratulations! You're in an excellent position.

on two occasions, and their response was I should take responsibility and inform the colleague. I am not in a managerial role, I am just a peer although I've been in this team longer.

They are having you do their role. Excellent.

Am I right to refuse to carry out (what seems to be) the task of my manager?

No way! Comply. Besides the fact that your manager is in a position to delegate tasks to you, there is also the fact that complying is very much to your benefit to do.

In order to receive a promotion, people want to see that you will be able to handle the new tasks. The strongest way to prove that is if you have experience doing the tasks already, or at least something similar (such as doing part of the job). That places the promoters' minds at ease, and places you way ahead of someone who is much more of an unknown.

If you fail, you have a great excuse: You didn't know what you were doing, and that's rather okay. It wasn't really your position to. You can discuss with your manager, and maybe learn something.

But, even better, maybe you succeed. In that case, you've performed a task for your boss. This means you made your boss's life easier. You've also shown you are a capable person. The management will know that if similar situations arise, you will have some positive experience to reflect on, and you've shown that such a situation wasn't too difficult before.

Take advantage of the opportunity that your manager has given you.

27

There is an alternative viewpoint to this...

You are the offender's peer, you remind them that company policy (and copyright law) forbids what they are doing. They stop it, everyone is happy.

Your manager officially tells them to stop it, it becomes an official infraction and there is a ton of paperwork, HR issue a written warning to the offender. They stop it, no-one is happy.

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    I can think of plenty of managers who would think "I know it's not allowed but he meant well and no-one was hurt, I'll get $OP to have a quiet word". Not all of them would do a very good job of expressing this view. +1 – Chris H Jul 21 '17 at 15:14
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    I think this is probably what is happening here. Good answer. – Joe Jul 21 '17 at 19:17
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    I wish I could upvote this answer 10000 times too. – user73867 Jul 22 '17 at 2:51
  • Good answer. This is kinda what I was trying to get at in my answer, but I went about it in a pretty roundabout manner :P. You have described it much more clearly and succintly. Also, welcome to The Workplace. – Masked Man Jul 22 '17 at 9:36
  • I'd a similar situation. On the team's chat channel, A colleague suggested an unauthorized (free) software would be useful for the work. Immediately after, another colleague said, "Please do not install unauthorized software." Short and straight to the point. No managers involved. – Anonymous Jul 24 '17 at 16:24
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Am I right to refuse to carry out (what seems to be) the task of my manager?

This all depends on what the word "right" means to you.

If this is a matter of principle to you, and you are prepared to accept whatever consequences arise after disobeying your manager, then yes, it is right.

On the other hand, it seems unwise to risk your job, or standing with your manager, for the relatively simple task of passing along a message to your colleague.

If you refuse, you now potentially share (in the eyes of your manager, rightly or wrongly) in any damages that result from the pirated software.

I agree that your manager should be the one to handle this matter, but in your case, is this a battle worth fighting?

  • for the relatively simple task of passing along a message to your colleague Are we sure that's the task though? To me it's not clear whether the manager just wants the OP to say something or whether the manager expects the OP to be able to make their co-worker stop. If it's the latter, and talking to the new co-worker doesn't work, what then? – BSMP Jul 20 '17 at 16:36
  • @BSMP good point -- I took "inform the colleague" as the only thing being asked. – mcknz Jul 20 '17 at 16:39
  • @BSMP They said the manager told them to "inform the colleague". I really don't see how that can be interpreted any other way. What could a manager even do besides "inform the colleague". Worst case scenario, they keep sharing the software. Then all the happens is that the manager dropped the ball; because they could have used the first time to gather proof of a warning (depending on the labour laws). – JMac Jul 21 '17 at 16:25
  • @JMac The manager said to "take responsibility and inform the colleague". I find that choice of phrasing odd if they aren't actually going to hold the OP responsible for anything. There's a good chance it was just a weird choice of words but there's also a chance the manager expects the OP to get the situation resolved, not just pass along a message. What could a manager even do besides "inform the colleague". Fire them? PIP plan? Other disciplinary action? Depends on company policy. – BSMP Jul 21 '17 at 17:06
2

Other action that can be performed besides of solutions from other answers: Discuss with your manager organization of a mandatory "training". Invite all newcomers from your team/department/company (depending on rotation per company size or your time)

During the training, include topics like copyright laws, company policies and what actions should be done when "copyright infringement" was detected (escalate to your line manager)

I understand that it is boring and repetitive, especially in big companies but can help avoid such problems done by any new employee in the future.

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    It might be good to have all existing team members do the training if any of them actually used the pirated material. Ideally the new employee would have had this training when they first joined. I'm wondering now if that didn't happen or if it did and the new person just ignored it. – BSMP Jul 20 '17 at 15:57
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    This is the manager's job. – Xavier J Jul 20 '17 at 16:46
  • @XavierJ I strongly agree. But if you have some additional working time to spend in the middle of other tasks, it could be proactive to do actions profitable for whole company. But I made remark: to discuss it with manager first. – mpasko256 Jul 20 '17 at 17:00
  • @XavierJ No, it's everyone's job. Following the law and acting ethically is the responsibility of everyone in the organization regardless of rank. Taking the "it's not my job" attitude is how monumental s***storms like the Enron and Worldcom debacles occurred. – DanK Jul 20 '17 at 19:25
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    It's definitely not everybody's job to get involved in policing or deciding organizational training needs. – Xavier J Jul 20 '17 at 20:12
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Unless this was going to impact the actual work you were involved in, you should have stayed out of this completely. From the very start, it wasn't your responsibility to police after your team members. If they were to install said software, with knowledge aforethought of its origin, it would have no bearing upon you. You should have only raised this as an issue at the point where anyone was instructing you to install it and the failure to do so would impede your duties.

So NOW, your manager is pushing this off on you to rectify -- which is improper. This is a "hot potato" in that the longer it's in your hands, the more your fingers will get burned. I'd send the e-mail, per the manager's request, and do no more. No more policing!

Dear Xyz: Our manager, Bob, has requested that you remove Software Abc from the company's shared network drive because we don't have legitimate licenses for it.

CC: your manager on the e-mail (as verification that you've sent it), and leave the issue alone. Don't go back to check if it's done; don't "report" on compliance or not. Leave the managing to the manager.

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    If I were an employer I would expect my employees to help me maintain a legal, policy-abiding company. If someone had pirated, pornographic, or other material on company equipment I would expect them to let me know about it (and would put this in company policy). I would consider it a violation for an employee to have knowledge of such material and not report it. I would put this in the code of ethics and the training about what is expected at the company. I also would never expect an employee to confront a coworker. That is ridiculous... – CodeSeeker Jul 20 '17 at 17:50
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It is definitely your manager'scresponsibility, not yours. Most companies have anonymous tip lines. You should use that if available, or if your company has an IT department, contact them.

Human Resources is another possible path.

The problem is, that if you are aware of a crime being committed, and don't report it, you are an accessory after the fact.

https://reporting.bsa.org/r/report/add.aspx?src=us&ln=en-us

Also, there is an industry association that lets you report anonymously. Pirated software is a federal offense.

Use the link listed

0

As others have said, it is not your duty to deal with this matters. Your manager should do it.

Here are two reasons you can use to convince/jolt your manager into paying attention to piracy.

1 - Pirated PDFs (or apps) can be embedded with malware which can open your company to hacker attacks. They can also contain malicious links to sites that do drive by malware downloads. (Why would someone spend time to crack pdf security to provide you books for free ?) You can google pdf malware or see this link. https://www.sans.org/security-resources/malwarefaq/pdf-overview

2 - A disgruntled employee can report piracy to the authorities and this might/might not end in dire consequences for the company, including loss of face. Here is an example of video game developer crytek being accused of using pirated copies of 3d modeling software: https://www.gamespot.com/articles/far-cry-developer-raided/1100-6087423/

If you need access to a library of technical books as opposed to a few books, then suggest your boss to get safaribooks website accounts for each of you. You could think about getting one account and sharing it with everyone. However, to be ethical (not necessarily legal), only one person should be using this account at a time.

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    Ok, but sharing account credentials is usually against terms of use for particular service and may be also illegal. So it doesn't solve the problem completely – mpasko256 Jul 21 '17 at 9:10
  • @mpasko256 - yes, I am aware that it might be ILLEGAL. But, personally, I don't think its UNETHICAL. Only one person should use an account at a time. If many people need to use it at the same time on a regular basis, then they should buy individual accounts. Also, they can ask safaribooks etc for shared accounts if thats even possible. – MasterJoe2 Jul 21 '17 at 20:56
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By whatever means you can, make sure this new colleague gets rid of this material. If your manager has asked you to do this, do it. Follow up and make sure this material is removed from your company network, and does not end up incorporated into your company's products.

Your manager is probably making a mistake by delegating this task to you. She should probably do it herself. You may want to politely push back and ask her to do it. But, it's most important to get this task done.

Write a memo to your manager, on paper, explaining what you did. "Following your instructions of such-and-such a date, I requested Joseph Jackson delete this data." Hand your manager a copy of that memo and take your copy home. Don't leave a copy of the memo online on your company's network under your control.

Why?

It's dangerous to your company's business to misuse some other company's intellectual property. The owner of that intellectual property may come after your company looking for lots of money in compensation. If it happens, it will happen at a time when your company is vulnerable to such an attack. You don't want to be part of the problem if that happens.

protected by Community Jul 21 '17 at 13:51

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