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Report software piracy, get a shot at $1 million

For a limited time only, a major software industry group is dangling the reward for workplace whistleblowers, but it's at its sole discretion to decide what's worthy of the jackpot.

A software industry group that has become well known for its high-profile antipiracy campaigns and crackdowns is now offering up to $1 million to tipsters who divulge the juiciest copyright infringement incidents in their workplaces.

The Business Software Alliance announced on Monday that between July and October, it will be multiplying fivefold the maximum incentive currently offered through its almost 2-year-old "rewards" program. The effort is designed to encourage whistleblowers to report unlicensed software use by their businesses--which, BSA reminds us in its press release, can carry as much as $150,000 in fines and cost the United States more than $7 billion last year alone.

"Reporting software piracy is the right thing to do and BSA is pleased to reward individuals who come forward with credible information," Jenny Blank, the organization's director of enforcement, said in a statement. BSA's members include Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk.

For me, the operative phrase in the reward offer is "up to," which begs the question, what sort of tip would qualify for that jackpot?

The short answer is, the reward is at BSA's "sole discretion," according to its terms and conditions. It's also supposed to be tied to the monetary value of the settlement or damages paid by a company in connection with the piracy claims.

Although the BSA has already been boasting rewards of "up to $200,000" since last year, a peek at their online press release archive indicates that hasn't even come close to happening yet. In fact, the organization has only announced one reward--last July, when it handed out a combined total of $15,500 to three individuals based on their reports, which prompted investigations and settlements.

A BSA representative told CNET on Monday that the organization has since issued awards at about double that amount but said it was generally not BSA's policy to disclose the reward numbers.

Meanwhile, the industry group says that thanks to the program, it has settled with hundreds of companies and taken in nearly $22 million since fall 2005.