The research, carried out on behalf of software compliance body the Business Software Alliance (BSA), will raise eyebrows among IT user groups who have, repeatedly, criticised the BSA’s heavy-handed approach to stamping out unlicensed software use in the UK.
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In its last campaign in February, the BSA wrote to 43,000 UK companies asking them to complete a software audit and warned company directors that they faced up to 10 years in prison and unlimited fines if their firms are found to be using illegal software.
The BSA also has a controversial "name and shame" approach for companies it finds using unlicensed software and offers cash rewards for employees who snitch on their employers.
The rate of UK software piracy used in the study was 25%, although that figure comes from the BSA's 2001 assessment.
BSA chairman Mark Floisand admitted the current figure could be lower. “We’ve seen the rate come down progressively over the past few years,“ he said.
IT barrister Stephen Mason said there was a disparity between the relatively low level of non-compliance in the UK and BSA’s “aggressive” approach and suggested the BSA could be under pressure from its parent body in the US to hit targets.
“Such an aggressive approach doesn’t elicit the same response in the UK,” he said. Mason said users should comply with their software licences but added that there was no obligation to co-operate with BSA or its rival, the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), as the two have “no powers whatsoever”.
Mason advised companies that may be forced to deal with the BSA to make it a term of settlement that their details be kept confidential - a tactic he used successfully for a client last year.
The BSA's Floisand called for more action against piracy and pointed to IDC predictions that a reduction in the software piracy rate from 25% to 15% in the UK would:
Create an additional £10bn toward UK GDP (gross domestic product) by 2006.
Generate £2.5bn in tax revenues.
Create 40,000 jobs in the IT sector over four years.