Escom admits illegal sales

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The Independent Online
THE outbreak of computer wars on the high street has created an embarrassment for the UK's first foreign entrant - the German computer retailer Escom has now admitted that it has unwittingly sold customers unlicensed software.

The company has sacked seven UK staff as a result.

Customers were also sold personal computers with software applications already installed, but without the accompanying manuals. Most software applications, sold separately or ready-installed on a PC, come with manuals and all are licensed, rather than sold outright, to protect against duplication. Among the companies whose software was mis-sold were Microsoft and Lotus Development Corporation, two of the biggest in the industry.

Escom said the problems were caused by inadequate training, and it has initiated an overhaul. The move followed an investigation by the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast), which specifically tackles software piracy and illegal copying.

Geoff Webster, Fast's chief executive, said Escom had been breaking the law when it sold unlicensed software. "The problem was widespread at Escom across the UK, it would seem, and not just confined to one store."

However, he said the problems seemed to have stemmed from poor management and training at a time of rapid growth. Escom launched itself into the UK market last March, when it bought the loss-making Rumbelows chain from Thorn-EMI.

Its high-street presence rose from 27 shops to 100, and it now has 200 stores nationwide, selling computers at around 20 per cent below current market prices.

Escom said all the software had been paid for, and there was no loss to the software companies. Geoff Saunders, commercial director of Escom UK, said: "I'm happy to accept we screwed up." He added that the company had just begun a new training programme initiated by Fast.

Selling computers on the high street has taken a long time to take off, but ever since the hype over the multimedia information superhighway era exploded, sales of PCs to the home have exploded.