US Navy Held Liable for Software Piracy Fines

Not the kind of piracy the Navy usually deals with

Navy ship
The Navy faced a lawsuit over software piracy.
Michael Afonso/Unsplash

Usually when the U.S. Navy is talked about in connection with piracy, it involves naval vessels clashing with other ships crewed by, well, pirates. This is the case in the 21st century, and the practice has a long history dating back to the 1800s. But that isn’t the only kind of piracy that exists these days, and a recent case heads into “the call is coming from inside the house” territory. Or, to phrase it slightly differently: what happens when it’s the Navy itself engaging in piracy?

Software piracy, in this case. A recent article in Task & Purpose focuses on a case involving the Navy and Bitmanagement Software GmbH, a software company based in Germany. As the article details, the Navy tested a geomapping software created by the company in 2011.

At issue here is a question of software licensing. Task & Purpose notes that the Navy installed the software on 550,000 computers; at the time, they had 38 licenses. This led Bitmanagement Software to file a lawsuit in 2016.

The decision, released by a federal claims court, makes for fascinating reading if you’re interested in software licensing and the ways in which open-source software may or may not overlap with the military.

The original amount sought by Bitmanagement Software was $600 million. The judgment is that the Navy must pay significantly less — $154,400, along with an amount for damages that has yet to be determined. According to Task & Purpose, when that will happen remains to be seen.

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