PC pirates who sail the software seas: Rogue programs are bad news for supplier and user alike, warns Martin Whybrow

TWO-THIRDS of all software installed in the UK is illegal, according to estimates from the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast). Mind you, that is still better than most of the rest of Europe. In Germany, only about 24 per cent of installed software is legal, and in Italy the figure is just 18 per cent.

With software suppliers losing an estimated dollars 4.6bn a year from illegal copying in Western Europe alone, it is not surprising that they are touchy about the subject.

However, the problem can spell bad news for users as well. For one thing, the existence of rogue software greatly increases the chances of being struck by a software virus. It may also attract the attentions of another unwelcome visitor. Over the past few years software suppliers have banded together to tackle the problem. This has resulted in the establishment of Fast in the UK and similar bodies dedicated to reducing software theft in other countries.

Where there is evidence of widespread infringement within an organisation, these industry bodies have started to get tough. In the UK this has involved presenting the evidence in court and obtaining something called an Anton Piller order, which allows the holder to enter and inspect a premises. The first an alleged offender is likely to know about this is when he or she receives a knock on the door from a team of lawyers and computer experts, court order in hand. The order gives them the right to carry out an audit of every PC within the organisation, and anyone denying them access is likely to be found in contempt of court.

Being raided by Fast is a fate that has so far befallen Marconi Instruments, York and County Press (part of the Financial Times Group), Mirror Group Newspapers, the London Borough of Greenwich Housing Authority and, most recently, the UK operations of the Taiwanese computer manufacturer Tatung.

If illegal software is found, the offending company may be prosecuted, although in the UK all raids to date have resulted in out-of-court settlements. That is not to say, however, that the guilty party can avoid the bad publicity. Shrewdly, Fast issues a press statement after every settlement. This is, no doubt, a major reason why Fast's corporate membership scheme stands at more than 130.

'We wanted to be seen to be doing something,' Derek Walklate, systems security manager at HFC Bank, says. The possibility of a heavy fine and bad publicity were strong incentives to join Fast, he says. It is an effective ploy. After the Greenwich Housing Authority gained the dubious distinction of being the first UK public-sector user to be raided, Fast was inundated with membership inquiries from other such organisations.

HFC Bank now has 1,700 personal computers. When systems ran on large, central mainframes, there was little problem, but the proliferation of PCs has caused control problems. Some organisations do not even know how many PCs they have, let alone what is running on them. Much of the illegal software may well be installed and copied by theend-users, but it is the employer who is liable.

It is also possible that the company has bought illegal software unwittingly from an unscrupulous dealer. Some users discover that they have been using illegal software only when they turn to the original developer for support or upgrades. If an application is based on a third- party database or fourth-generation language, for instance, licences are needed for these as well.

Some illegal software may be packaged to look like the real thing. The Far East is a common source of pirated software, and a recent raid on premises in Hong Kong by the US-based Business Software Alliance resulted in the seizure of dollars 8m worth of software.

Users should be wary of buying PCs running pre-installed software. In June this year a liquidator based in London, McGill & Co, pleaded guilty to selling computers that included business software installed in breach of copyright law. The software had been loaded less than 24 hours before the PCs were offered for sale, so the intention was clearly to enhance the value of the computers. The company was convicted on six specimen charges and fined more than dollars 4,000. A user buying those PCs may well have been none the wiser.

'In the majority of cases, we are satisfied that there is no deliberate intent,' Bob Hay, chief executive of Fast, says. 'But that is not to say that there is no knowledge.' At the Mirror Group, for instance, 700 out of the 800 software programs in use were found to be illegal. At another company, a set of disks was found with 'rip-off copy of Lotus 1-2-3' written on them. And on some raids, as Fast has been going in the front door, users have been trying to smuggle evidence out the back.

It is basically up to the user to provide proof of ownership. Lack of intent or knowledge is, of course, no defence in the eyes of the law. It is the user's responsibility to know what software is installed within the organisation. Software audit tools are available for this purpose, but despite the high-profile tactics being adopted by suppliers, most companies continue to use software illegally. They might be well advised to carry out audits themselves, before someone bearing a court order does it for them.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
tvGame of Thrones season 5 episode 1 review
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
News
i100
News
people
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Sport
Fabian Delph celebrates his goal
footballChristian Benteke and Fabian Delph turn semi-final after Liverpool goal
Life and Style
Model wears: top £29.50, leggings £25, jacket £29.50, bag £25, all marksandspencer.com
fashion
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary
music
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace