Opinion

Combating the unintentional software pirate

Is the United Kingdom a nation of accidental pirates? The findings of the 2010 Business Software Alliance (BSA) Global Software Piracy Study released earlier this year searches for the answer. More than £1.6 billion worth of illegal software was installed on personal computers in the UK last year, according to the BSA study, writes Julian Swan.

The research suggests one reason may be that not enough people understand the pertinent processes of the licensing laws. It is illegal, for example, to buy a single license for a software programme and then install it on multiple computers in an enterprise. Yet a surprising percentage of business decision-makers, over a third of those surveyed (36%), said it was legal to purchase software for one computer and then install it on additional computers in their office assuming the practice is entirely permissible.

Therefore and not surprisingly, the surveys suggest that many PC users are using unlicensed software without even knowing it. Beyond the example of buying a single license and then installing a programme on multiple computers, more than one-third of PC users believe it is legal to download software from peer-to-peer networks (36%) or borrow software from a friend or co-worker (39%). What's more, public opinion comes down firmly in favour of intellectual property rights, according to surveys of more than 15,000 PC users polled for BSA's piracy study. For example, seven in 10 PC users support paying inventors for their creations to promote more technology advances. Furthermore, more than eight in 10 say legal software is superior to pirated software because it is more reliable and secure.

There is a clear need to address the underlying confusion about how to acquire legal software and educate people and businesses about the associated risks. In many cases, people want to do the right thing, but they are confused about how to get it done.

For the end user, there are clear risks to using illegal software -- intentional or not -- which can end up costing much more than legitimate software would have in the first place. These include exposure to malware, viruses and other problems that can compromise security; a lack of technical support; and the legal and reputational risks of violating copyright laws.

The implications extend beyond the ramifications for the individual or business. Software theft undermines legitimate business activity for software-related distribution and service firms. Moreover, it also creates competitive imbalances as companies that use illegal software benefit from an undue cost advantage over those that abide by the law. As with any underground activity such as piracy, there are impacts on jobs, tax revenues and spending that harm the broader economy.

Successful anti-piracy programmes should, therefore, include a heavy focus on public education. Businesses and consumers alike must better understand the most reliable channels for acquiring legal software and the consequences of using software without a license. The implementation of software asset management practices is also a valuable way to assist businesses with managing their software purchases, utilisation, and maintenance, and is something that government, industry and businesses in the UK can all help to promote.

We've made significant strides in the UK when it comes to addressing the issue of software piracy. This year, we've already contacted thousands of businesses in the Midlands and North West regions of the UK in an effort to help those that may need to address any software issues they have. The feedback has been so promising that we are extending our compliance checks to other areas of the UK. However, there will always be businesses and individuals that are incorrigible when it comes to following the licensing laws. Once again, we've seen numerous companies picked-up through our enforcement process, which has cost those found to be under licensed thousands of pounds.

Nevertheless, with a piracy rate of 27%, the research shows that there's still much more to be done in order to eradicate software piracy and realise the long-term economic benefits of a vibrant software and IT sector.

Julian Swan is Director of Compliance Marketing, EMEA, of the Business Software Alliance in the UK. For more information about the 2010 BSA Global Software Piracy Study, visit www.bsa.org/globalstudy.

This was first published in November 2011

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