IT directors whose companies use unlicensed software have a choice, either face a jail term, or save money, according to the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast).
The maximum prison sentence is currently two years, but Fast claims if companies investigated software licensing, they would probably discover an over-licensing problem.
Corporate piracy in the UK is currently running at around 26 per cent of all software used. Richard Willmott, head of Fast Corporate Services, says many of the problems exist because IT departments are unwilling to admit there's an issue. 'In the UK, corporate piracy has come down from 42 per cent and is currently one of the best in Europe. However, with the increase in software, the volume of piracy has increased. Sometimes the problem exists because IT is scared to admit it doesn't know how many licences it needs, which can result in as much as 25 per cent over licensing.'
Willmott says many of the problems exist with users, who can now download free software from the internet, unaware that businesses require licence agreements. Home workers can also cause problems with many employees using their own software for business purposes, breaking the terms of the licence.
But Fast believes if IT departments investigated software licensing it could save between 10 and 30 per cent of the IT budget. 'The very least we have ever saved is 10 per cent. Certification will cost time and money but it will always save more in the long run,' says Willmott.
One such organisation, which took up the challenge, is Yorkshire Electricity Group (YEG). It claims to have saved £500,000 after analysing the licensing related to 3,000 PCs, and now expects to reduce its budget by 10 per cent year-on-year. YEG locks machines down and uses tools to regularly audit the software being used. They also use metering products to discover if software is being under used, and re-assign licences to those with a greater need. But there was a warning that the experience can be hard work, and requires the co-operation of not just users, but HR and finance departments as well. Ivor Duggan, configuration and release manager at YEG, says: 'The bottom line was that we had to be software compliant. We had HR involved so they could get the licensing message across at induction, and the finance department were told not to authorise IT related purchases unless it came from the designated IT section. My top tip would be to get board level approval for the project.'