Software piracy is decreasing across Europe: Industry believes law is acting as deterrent

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SOFTWARE 'pirates' are draining hundreds of millions of pounds of business from publishers despite a fall last year in the use of illegal software, the industry claims.

After several years of rising levels of piracy, the proportion of software in use without legitimate licences in Europe fell to 66 per cent from 76 per cent in 1990 and 1991, according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include software publishers and distributors from around the world.

In Britain, this represents a fall in lost revenue from pounds 508m to pounds 447m, according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include software publishers and distributors from around the world.

In Europe as a whole, the amount lost to piracy last year was pounds 3bn, the BSA said. The biggest loss was pounds 850m, in France. Italy and Spain suffered the greatest use of pirated software - 86 per cent of the market. In Britain, the amount of lost revenue fell from pounds 508m in 1990 and 1991 to pounds 447m last year.

The BSA claims its figures indicate that the threat of jail sentences and heavy fines may be deterring some people. 'We have finally seen the tide turn against software piracy in Europe, but we have a long way to go before we can declare victory,' Brad Smith, legal counsel in Europe for the BSA, said.

The biggest improvements have been in the UK, which has consistently recorded the highest percentage of legal software in use among the eight countries covered in BSA surveys. This figure rose from 33 per cent in 1991 to 46 per cent last year.

Mr Smith attributes the UK's comparatively good record to a combination of factors. 'People take the law more seriously here,' he said.

He cited the Federation Against Software Theft, which has been active in litigation against people supplying illegal software, bringing more than 100 cases to court in the UK. The BSA concentrates on action against companies using software illegally, rather than individuals, and has taken about a dozen cases to court in Britain.

Mr Smith was confident that the BSA's figures were reliable and did not simply reflect under-reporting. He said that although the level of piracy had decreased in every country included, the size of the change varied. 'In the Benelux countries the improvement is quite significant, but in France and Spain it is marginal.'

The BSA collates its data by monitoring computer hardware shipments and matching these to software sold for use on the machines. 'We looked at the number of applications of programs being used and found the average was three per machine. Our figures show that people are buying only 1.3 per machine,' Mr Smith said. 'We get a pretty good idea if we are right from all the anecdotal information that comes back to us.'