• Campaign targets £1.2bn software piracy problem in the UK

A national campaign has been launched to tackle widespread software piracy abuse in the UK

The ‘Software: Stay Legal’ initiative will see the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) work with Trading Standards and the Police to raise awareness of infringements and tackle unlicensed software use.

Research by the Business Software Alliance has found that more than a quarter (26%) of all software programmes installed in the UK last year were unlicensed - costing the industry £1.2bn.

FAST also received almost 600 whistleblower calls last year, which identified companies with incorrect licensing arrangements, and claims it will help software houses seek out any abuse and back this up with legal action if necessary.

The organisation does claim however, that many businesses are unwittingly infringing copyrights and it hopes its campaign will raise awareness and avoid the need for prosecutions.

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, general counsel at FAST, said: “Sometimes in smaller organisations the issue of dealing with software licensing often falls to people who have too many things to deal with.

“The trouble is that when companies are growing, software tends to be the mule that carries the pack and this use should be correctly licensed.

“With the way the software industry works firms need to collect license fees as this is how they make profit and afford to operate.

“If people are blatantly not going to pay for software, however, there should be a deterrent - it has its place. If, after a period of education, someone is clearly not going to pay then you have to say the time for talking is over.

FAST recognises that companies do change shape and size over time and this can lead companies to be over-licensed or under-licensed. It therefore also encourages software companies to ensure that end-users are not paying for programmes they are no longer using.

A recent study by technology reseller Probrand, which involved interviews with 250 organisations in the UK, found that firms are, however, increasingly finding it difficult to keep a track of licenses. It found 87% of firms were either under-licensed or over-licensed.

Probrand General Manager, Jane Dawson, said: “Many businesses are so confused or time and cash strapped they are allowing software licenses to lapse without renewal. 

“Alternatively, businesses are renewing without re-counting the number of licenses they actually need.  This leaves them under or oversubscribed using the same license for multiple machines or renewing licenses for PCs or users no longer with the business.    

“Put simply, 87% of businesses are either wasting money on over-licensing or are at risk of court action due to under-licensing their user base.”

She adds: “The renewal of software or Software Asset Management is a big problem for private and public sectors alike.  Indeed growth organisations have an issue when they forget to add seats when they recruit new staff. 

“Put simply, from an asset management perspective, the intangible license often gets forgotten.  But compliance is critical."

Many people don't realise that when they purchase software they are actually purchasing a license not the actual software. This leads to common infringement of copyright which includes the unauthorised copying or distribution of software, purchasing one single copy of software to install on multiple computers and the online sharing or downloading of software from peer-to-peer websites.