Illegal software copiers targeted

Design consultancies which are using software illegally are among 76 000 companies being targeted for raids by trading standards officers.

A crackdown from May on “software crime” is expected to net many consultancies which break the law. Most do so through ignorance rather than malice, says Roger Woods of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST).

FAST, which was set up by the Government to deal with software copyright, backs Government estimates that 90 per cent of companies illegally copy software.

Woods claims that every consultancy in London which is using more than a dozen Macs or PCs will be visited by trading standards officers over the next three years. The campaign will be widened beyond London, and smaller companies will also be targeted. Consultancies found in breach of the law face confiscation of software and hardware.

Legal action could also be extended to clients, which could find designs produced using illegal software are also seized.

Woods met representatives from around 50 consultancies at a discussion organised by the Design Business Association last week, chaired by Barry Salter, chairman of Design in Action.

Salter says: “There is the ability to prosecute, but I understand that FAST wants to work with designers. There is only a small percentage of people who set out to break the law – but it is a very easy law to break.”

Salter says software companies which use complex licence agreements are not helping themselves or design consultancies: “Designers are not lawyers.” Salter says there is a role for the DBA to represent the software users, a view backed by Woods.

FAST hopes it can facilitate agreement between the design industry and software producers. Woods says: “We want to help people avoid trouble and manage their software within the law. We want to change attitudes, not prosecute.”

An affordable software audit scheme is one suggestion being discussed by the DBA and FAST.

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