Fight against piracy hits snag: BSA

The rate at which business software is being pirated failed to decline in 2000 for the first time in six years, according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a watchdog group representing software manufacturers. About 37 per cent of business software used worldwide last year consisted of illegal copies, about the same figure as in 1999, marking the first time piracy rates stopped dropping since BSA began measuring the phenomenon.

The study, conducted on BSA’s behalf by the independent consulting firm International Planning and Research Corp. (IPR), estimates companies’ revenue losses due to software piracy at nearly US$11.8 billion worldwide last year, a 3.5 per cent decline from the 1999 losses of US$12.2 billion, BSA said in a statement recently.

The lack of progress in combating piracy could be due at least in part to a poor business climate, said Bob Kruger, BSA’s vice president of enforcement.

“In a period of slowing economies, businesses at least might be willing to take a greater risk in terms of using unlicensed software, hoping to perhaps save money in the short term, but of course exposing themselves to potentially significant penalties if they were to get caught,” he said.

Other factors affecting piracy rates include the growth of Web sites offering illegal software copies, spam marketing campaigns and peer-to-peer systems that allow people to trade software, he added.

In conjunction with the study, BSA kicked off its “International Sweeps Week,” a campaign to reach financial settlements with companies and organizations targeted for using illegal copies of software. BSA has reached 159 such settlements worldwide for a total exceeding US$6.2 million, Kruger said.

“These cases all involve workplace copying: Businesses and organizations that have made more copies of software programs on office computers than they have licenses to support. That’s an often overlooked facet of this piracy problem,” he said. “We believe that the workplace piracy problem is what’s responsible for the lion’s share of those losses in sales. That’s where we direct the majority of our attention.”

BSA learns of scofflaw companies largely by means of tips from disgruntled employees, who contact the group via its Web site and toll-free phone hotline, Kruger said. “There’s a lot of people out there who have an axe to grind but also very good information,” he said. “Once we satisfy ourselves that we’re proceeding only on the basis of reliable information, we’ll go after these companies. Once we catch up to them, they’re going to have to make a payment, not just buy the software.”

The settlements can range anywhere from US$50,000 for a small company, to US$500,000 for a large corporation, he said. “We’ve settled at those levels and many sizes in between. The point is to create enough of an incentive that businesses will add software management to their corporate checklist right along with their other legal issues.”

– IDG News Service