Consultancies warned after piracy tip-offs

Tip-offs to the Business Software Alliance’s piracy hotline led to written warnings for seven design consultancies last month.

Andrew Robinson, the alliance’s anti-piracy specialist for the UK and Ireland says the letters sent by its solicitor Covington & Burling asked groups for an audit of the software they use.

If a company cannot provide an audit, the BSA will pursue it further, with the ultimate threat of legal action. The maximum penalty for illegal software use is two years’ imprisonment, with unlimited fines. Robinson will not reveal which design groups have received the warnings.

“The severe penalties as well as the reputational risks far outweigh any possible incentives from cutting corners over licensing,” says BSA Europe director of marketing Clare O’Brien.

“Our message is to legalise before you get caught,” says Evan Cox, BSA European legal counsel at Covington & Burling. “We’re not out to get you for past misuse if you voluntarily agree to legalise, but if we hear about you through the hotline, all bets are off.”

The companies targeted by the BSA were reported to its hotline, which runs a reward scheme offering informants 10 per cent of settlements collected from organisations that opt to “legalise” pirated software.

The rewards go up to a maximum of 2500. Over the past three months, the BSA’s solicitors have collected around 100 000 in settlements, including 4500 from London Repro Company.

“If the company writes back acknowledging that it has a problem, we would look to help them legalise their software and put an audit system in place,” says Robinson.

The BSA crackdown runs in parallel to the membership scheme operated by the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). DIA managing director Barry Salter is meeting FAST this week on behalf of the Design Business Association. The two bodies are investigating the possibility of a low-cost FAST membership scheme for the design industry. Currently, corporate membership of FAST costs 1000.

While agreeing with the principles behind the BSA campaign, Salter criticises the proliferation of different organisations attempting to enforce software laws. “It’s going to be very confusing if five or six entities around the world are operating as software police,” he says.

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