Here are some general answers (FAQ) regarding whether or not Microsoft SAM software audits are truly voluntary or not.
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My question is about SAM – is it really voluntarily, and if so, what exactly does voluntary mean here?
I would say, YES, they are voluntary in nature (unless MS has some evidence that it is a “contractual audit”) in which case a company could be required to do it. In my experience, however, MS usually treats it as voluntary. That means you don't have to do it, but there can be some benefits to doing it. For one, if you are short on licensing, you can “true up” and buy software at MSRP pricing so you do not have to pay infringement penalties. I would get this understanding in writing, up front, however.
Does it mean Microsoft can ask a small businessman that they would like to come and inspect his office and computers?
I have not seen that happen in my experience. I'm not saying raids or on-site inspections are not possible under certain circumstances, it's just that I have not seen that happen, thankfully.
Or can they just write mails hoping he replies?
That is usually what they do, yes.
If he chooses to ignore, does it give MS a right to send a contracted official to their offices to check on things?
Again, I have never had any MS officials threaten me with onsite audits, but I have not personally seen it happen that way.
Voluntary, in that sense, is a pretty vague term. Where is the line drawn?
I call it voluntary in the sense that if you don't agree to participate, and if they believe a company has unlicensed software (perhaps based on an informant piracy tip), you could have a situation where the matter gets escalated to the Business Software Alliance (“BSA”) and their lawyers. When you get to this level, a business owner will likely be implicitly threatened with litigation (and big infringement fees) so at that point it might not feel so “voluntary” in nature, although even the BSA usually treats it as “voluntary.”
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