Half Of PC Users Are Pirates, Says Study

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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One in four UK computer users have installed unlicensed software, says BSA

Over half of PC users worldwide have admitted to using pirate software last year, according to a study by the trade group Business Software Alliance (BSA).

BSA’s ninth annual Global Software Piracy Study has shown a sharp increase in software piracy, especially among emerging economies. In the UK, more than one in four programs users installed in 2011 were unlicensed.

Flying the Jolly Roger

In a survey of around 15,000 computer users from a total of 33 countries around the world, 57 percent admitted to using pirated software, up from 42 percent the year before. The BSA estimates that the global annual cost of software piracy has reached $63.4 billion (£40b).

UK is firmly below the global average, with just 27 percent of computer users admitting they have acquired software illegally last year. This translates into an approximate £1.2 billion loss by the software industry.

According to the study, young men are much more likely to use unlicensed software than any other demographic. 28 percent of professed software pirates in the UK are under 34 years old, and 79 percent are male.

“As the UK enters a double-dip recession, it has never been more important to protect the creative industry’s intellectual property and its vital contribution to the economy. However, to do so we need to fundamentally change the way we view and acquire software,” says Julian Swan, director of compliance marketing at BSA EMEA.

The study discovered that more than three quarters (77 percent) of UK PC users surveyed do not think the risk of getting caught is an effective deterrent to software piracy.

According to the UK law, the maximum amount of damages the software developers can claim is equivalent to the cost of the software license. The BSA is calling for a stronger damages law, including double damages, to stop the increase in illegal software use.

The study has also found that computer users in emerging markets are more likely to use pirated software than in mature ones – 68 percent against 24 percent respectively.

By its sheer scale, China has the most troubling piracy problem. Its illegal software market was worth nearly £5.5 billion in 2011 versus a legal market of less than £1.7 billion.

Walking the plank

According to BSA, on average only 20 percent of software pirates consider current enforcement measures a sufficient deterrent to their activities.

“It is clear that the fight against software piracy is far from over. Although emerging markets are of the greatest concern, the problem is still persisting in mature markets, in which one in four admit to using pirated software. One of the more troubling issues is that business decision makers purchase some legitimate copies but then turn a blind eye to further (illegal) installations for new users, locations and devices,” said Robin Fry, commercial services partner at DAC Beachcroft.

“Although, the legal framework currently in place in the UK generally serves the software industry well, readily accessible enforcement could be improved. As an organisation we endeavour to assist our members in protecting their products and take to task those who illicitly seek to exploit them. However, the existing legislative process can be unduly wieldy – so much so that many businesses, and enforcement agencies, are put off,” commented Julian Heathcote Hobbins, general counsel at Federation Against Software Theft.

“It is all very well having the IP rights in place, but unless we can improve the practical enforcement measures, the effectiveness of the laws will be blunted,” he added.

We should note that the previous BSA reports have been criticised by some members of the industry as “propaganda”.

BSA has recently exercised its power by working out a settlement worth £10,000 with the Blackpool-based company George Morrison over its illegal use of Microsoft and Autodesk products.

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