Prisons admit using illegal software

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The Independent Online
The Prison Service has been found to be using pirated computer software. An internal memo, leaked to Ian Burrell, reveals that jail staff have been ordered to stop the practice.

A memo sent to all prison governors and area managers in England and Wales reveals that one jail has already been subjected to an investigation by the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast), the organisation sponsored by the major software producers to fight piracy. The investigation revealed that 30 per cent of the software used in the prison had been illegally copied.

The memo, sent out on 15 January, states: "The resulting cash compensation agreed and paid by the Prison Service to Fast was pounds 37,600, which was based on the recommended retail value of the software."

Replacing the software is an additional cost and there is concern that if a similar situation is found among the 130 prisons in England and Wales, the cost to the public purse could run into millions of pounds.

The memo advises: "The implementation of the following procedures will help to prevent the embarrassment that may result from the exposure of software theft within a government department whose primary purpose is to incar- cerate those who commit crime."

Last night Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The taxpayer has already been asked to pay a fine of pounds 37,600. We have a right to know the name of the prison concerned and whether any disciplinary action has been taken against those responsible."

In the memo, prison officials state that they believe there is a "common assumption" within the service that all the software is covered by site licences and that prison staff are able to make unlimited copies free of charge. It points out: "This is not true. All software is subject to licence and may only be used within the boundaries of that licence."

It is estimated that worldwide, software piracy costs the industry pounds 1bn a year. It recently emerged that organised crime in Britain had recognised the value of such products and was targeting factories involved in producing pirate products.

Geoff Webster, chief executive of Fast, said its inquiry had followed a tip-off from a member of the prison's staff: "We verified the credibility of the report ... They have now taken action across the whole service."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "We are aware that in the past there have been instances of unlicenced computer software being used in prison establishments ... measures to eradicate the use of unlicenced software have been devised and communicated to all heads of establishments."