“I don’t want to be a criminal. Will you do it for me?”

People who know me well know that I respect intellectual property rights and honor end user license agreements. The fact is that failure to do so is stealing. I didn’t sit down to write a treatise on this today, but suffice to say that there is case law (both secular and religious, for those who compartmentalize) to back my assertion up.

I received a call today from a client who needed remote assistance from a software company. It seems that the software company technician wanted my client to install TeamViewer so that they could log in remotely. The client was unable to do so, and called to ask me to do it. I told the client, as politely as I could manage, that the request was rather surprising, that I found it more than a bit offensive, and if the software company’s technician wanted TeamViewer on my client’s computer, they should find a way to facilitate this themselves.

So, what was wrong with this request? Simple: Contrary to what many people think, TeamViewer is NOT freeware. TeamViewer (the company) graciously permits free use of their remote access product for personal use only. They do not leave “personal use” to the imagination; they explain what personal use means as far as they are concerned, and provide concrete examples to illustrate it. Using TeamViewer to provide technical¬† support to another company falls squarely into the category of business use, at least as far as TeamViewer (the company) is concerned. Business use requires a license, and TeamViewer licenses range in cost from about $700 to thousands of dollars, depending on a number of factors. I’m not going to try to argue that TeamViewer is inexpensive for this, that or the other. The fact is that many technicians find TeamViewer to be the very best remote access software available. TeamViewer (the company) knows this, and thus justifies the premium price. My business can’t afford that premium price, but I don’t use this to make an excuse for violating TeamViewer’s intellectual property rights. I simply license and use a less expensive remote access product.

The reason I found the request offensive is because it told me three things about the software company (which, I happen to know, charges hefty licensing and maintenance fees for their own products): First, they’re too cheap to license remote access software that they need to provide support. (To reiterate: TeamViewer may be the best remote access software, but it is not the only remote access software. There are cheaper, and even free, alternatives for those willing to open their eyes and look.) Second, they clearly know that providing TeamViewer to their customers without a proper license is against the law, because other companies that license TeamViewer appropriately have easy ways to distribute the TeamViewer host software to their customers, and this software company is not doing so. But what really made me angry was the third thing: while the software company knows that distributing TeamViewer without a business license to provide tech support is illegal, and therefore will not do so themselves, they are perfectly happy to ask other people to install it, and thus break the law for them!

If someone doesn’t agree with intellectual property laws and end user license agreements, or just doesn’t want to play by the rules for whatever reason, we can agree to disagree. It’s not my job to police such things. But at least he should have the guts to commit the violation himself. I draw the line when someone asks me to be a criminal for him.