While already this year the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast) has seized pirated software with a retail value of £16m, the majority of it on CD-Rom, computer industry experts predict the problem will worsen dramatically with the imminent retail launch of two CD-Rom recorders costing less than £500, a fraction of the former price for such machines. The industry is fighting back by attempting to develop "unpiratable" CDs.
CD-Rom (Compact Disk Read Only Memory) is fast becoming the most popular medium for the PC. Software is saved permanently on a disk similar in appearance to a music CD. The disks can also store digital video pictures and hi-fi-quality stereo sound. Each disk has a 650 megabyte capacity sufficient to hold as much information as in the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Software on CD Rom has helped sales of computers with CD drives to soar.
Until now CD Roms have been a relatively secure way of distributing software. Unlike floppy disks, the normal CD cannot be re-written; and they contain so much information (more than the average hard disk will hold) that computer users tend to keep and re-use them rather than downloading the information or copying it.
Gold CDs, which have a shiny golden surface rather than the usual silver, can be used to record computer information. Until now, machines for recording on the disks have cost around $5,000 (£3,300). But two electronics firms, Panasonic and Phillips, are about to launch new CD recorders. Panasonic's machine will cost only £500. Phillips is expected to match this.
Already in Britain 49 per cent of software is illegal pirate copies. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include Microsoft, Novell, Wordperfect and Lotus Development, estimates that the cost to the industry is more than £350m.
UK software and games manufacturers look with horror at the Far East where whole factories have been set up to produce pirate copies of software, including CDs. In Peking, a CD containing more than £7,000-worth of the world's best software programs can cost £70.
A spokeswoman for Fast said: "There are not only commercially produced CDs coming in from the Far East but now CD writers are making piracy terribly easy here. Compared to the millions of pounds-worth of software we might find in a single raid, the cost of CD writers is very small, particularly when you consider there might be £50,000 of software on one disk."
Pirate CDs seized by Fast include programs such as AutoCAD Release 12, a computer-aided design package that retails for £3,150, as well as mainstream titles such as Microsoft Word (a wordprocessing program costing £250) and Foxpro V2.5 (a database costing £595). The spokesman added: "We seized £60m-worth of software last year and this year it is likely to be more; I've extrapolated at least £64m. CD Roms hold a far greater value of software than floppy disks."
The computer games market is also under attack. Investigators from the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa) recently bought a gold CD at a car-boot sale in Manchester. On it were more than 100 Nintendo games which would normally have sold for up to £70 each.
Roger Bennett, director of Elspa, which represents the major games software companies in the UK, said: "These (car-boot) sales are totally unregulated. We are going to lobby to try to get changes in the law."
Business News, page 3Reuse content