BSA unveils new way of catching software pirates

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is using a software tool to track copyrighted software distribution and its detective work...

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is using a software tool to track copyrighted software distribution and its detective work has led it in some cases to corporate enterprises.

The trade group, which demonstrated its system at a press briefing, has used it to identify peer-to-peer systems, Web sites, newsgroups and other Internet distribution points for illegal software.

The BSA says business software producers, including alliance members such as Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Apple Computer are losing $12bn (£8bn) a year as a result of software piracy worldwide. Thirty-seven percent of all commercial software is pirated, said BSA officials.

It is "an outrageously high level of software piracy," said Robert Holleyman, BSA president and chief executive. "It would be hard to find any other industry that could sustain levels of theft that high."

Most of that loss is due to end user businesses that have rolled out software on more PCs than they own licences for. That represents the bulk of problem, Holleyman said.

However, illegal use of software downloaded from the Internet is a growing concern for the trade group. By 2005, the BSA predicts, two-thirds of all software will be delivered online, up from just over 10% in 2000.

The BSA has also released a survey of 1,026 adults that found that more than half of the people who have downloaded commercial software seldom or never pay for it. "This is something we really need to correct," Holleyman said.

The BSA said it will step up its educational effort to increase awareness about piracy, but it is also coupling that effort with stronger enforcement.

The trade group is using a system developed by MediaForce in New York that uses intelligent agents to "crawl" or search the Internet for illegal distributors. The system displays the software being distributed, the address of the distributor and the Internet service provider.

The system has dramatically improved the efficiency of the BSA's search for software pirates. After a distributor is found, a notice is sent to the Internet service provider alerting it about illegal software distribution. The Internet provider then contacts the account owner and removes the end user from the system.

Last year, the trade group distributed 5,200 notices to Internet service providers. Within the first three months of using the Web crawler, more than 8,500 notices were sent out.

"We're dealing with a lot of small ISPs that previously didn't even show up on our radar screen," said Bob Kruger, BSA's vice-president of enforcement.

The BSA shared results of its enforcement actions but not the names of those targeted. In a couple of cases, employees at companies were fired for distributing software from their workplace PCs, according to letters received by the trade group. In another incident, a parent wrote that her son was going to be "grounded for a month" for distributing software.

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