One area not to cost-cut

Here’s one place hospitals shouldn’t cut corners: computer software. Just ask the folks at The Provident Hospital of Cook County, Illinois. That institution recently paid more than $160,000 to the Business Software Alliance to settle claims that some of its departments "pirated" computer software — another way of saying they made unauthorized copies.

The hospital was charged with copying programs by Autodesk, Corel, Lotus, Microsoft, and Novell. In addition to the fine, Provident must destroy the illegal copies.

It’s become common practice in business to share a single copy of software rather than buy separate boxes for each employee who needs one. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), an association of software manufacturers, estimates worldwide losses of $15 billion due to copying; a third of that amount in the United States.

However innocuous the practice might seem — say, one employee sharing an expensive program with another — it’s illegal on any scale and has been since 1964, before anyone had a home computer. The federal government laid out more explicit rules for computer software piracy in 1980, when it made it illegal to manufacture or distribute copies of computer software with-out permission from the copyright holder. Restrictions were tightened further in 1992 as piracy became more of a problem. Now, the U.S. Code includes criminal sanctions against those who pirate software. You could spend up to five years in jail for a particularly egregious breech.

So, the bottom line is this: If your hospital needs 10 copies of software, buy them. And don’t think you’re safe from reproach just because you’re small. The BSA has a tip line where anonymous callers can report copiers. In fact, that’s how it discovers most cases of copyright infringement.