Legal Question in Technology Law in New York

Can a company force an employee to use copyrighted software knowing that it is not licenced from the software owner to use and if refused fire the employee ? Who would enforce such illegal activity and protect an employee from this type of job requirement ?

Asked on 9/07/13, 8:20 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

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No, a company cannot force employees to break any laws. A fired employee can file a lawsuit for wrongful retaliation; however, proving the retaliation is the burden of the fired employee and is very difficult.

During a termination, most companies have the ex-employee sign a statement recounting a reason for the termination and/or a disclaimer of any lawsuits for retaliation. If no such document was written by the company it is in the best interest of the fired employee to work with an attorney to write their own letter summarizing the events leading up to the firing and sending it to the corporate headquarters via registered mail. This would serve as both a record of fresh memories of the employee's side of the story as well as solidify the date of the events. Any subsequent purchase of proper licenses could be used as evidence of an admission that they were previously operating with knowledge of invalid licenses.

Additionally, the fired employee may alert the rightful copyright holder of the piracy. Some companies offer "bounties" to persons that discover such activities if they result in a positive outcome in their own lawsuits.

Beyond those relatively weak attempts to produce evidence of the retaliation, such a lawsuit cannot prevent a firing before it happens and, most likely, will not return the employee to being employed if they win the suit. Only a labor union with pre-agreed upon terms of investigation or government jobs with established "property rights" in the employment have available governing bodies that will prevent a firing before it happens.

Many companies do maintain what's called an "ombudsman" that will allow employees to make anonymous complaints of illegal activities or harassment to an outside company that will then conduct an investigation. If this company does not have an ombudsman it is possible that an internal HR representative is designated play this role - find the corporate manual and read it cover to cover or look on an employee "notice board" in a break room or an internal website to see if one is available.

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Answered on 9/11/13, 8:48 am

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