Rush to register for software amnesty

MORE than 1000 companies nationwide have taken advantage of the Business Software Association of Australia’s amnesty from prosecution for possessing pirated software.

The 60-day campaign, which ended last Saturday, gave businesses 30 days to ensure they removed pirated or unlicensed software from their systems. Under the terms of the truce, software developers including Adobe, Apple, Filemaker, Microsoft and Symantec, have refrained from prosecuting offenders during the period.

While the number of companies that have registered under the truce is only a small fraction of Australian businesses, BSAA director Andre Pravaz believes the amnesty was successful in drawing attention to the issue of software piracy and licensing.

“A lot of people don’t understand the liabilities they face and the issues surrounding intellectual property when it comes to software,” Mr Pravaz said.

He said company directors could be personally liable for fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if illegal software was found on their computer systems.

Microsoft Australia corporate attorney Vanessa Hutley said the campaign had put the issue of software piracy back on the agenda for many businesses.

“I actually think the strength of the BSAA truce is that it has raised awareness within companies to start looking at their use of software and putting in place practices to make sure they get the best benefit out of their software, and ensuring at the same time they are fully compliant,” Ms Hutley said.

“I think the companies that have done that do not only have peace of mind, but are getting the best benefit out of the software they have got.”

Mr Pravaz said the response from business to the campaign had been positive for the most part, but acknowledged the timing of the truce coincided with the end of financial year, when software issues were not high on the list for businesses.

“It is a tough business environment at the moment. We’ve had some angry replies but, in the main, most businesses were happy to learn the truce period gave them time to get rid of any pirated software from the premises without risking legal action.”

However, there are still some companies that have resisted the BSAA’s efforts. The association knows of 125 companies that are in breach of anti-piracy laws. Of these, 94 have been reported for illegal end-user software and 21 are retailers. Mr Pravaz said the companies had not registered under the truce and the BSAA would be pursuing those businesses vigorously.

Most reports to the BSAA come from current or former employees. They usually have detailed, accurate information on the misuse of software.

Reported companies that resisted an audit of their systems would have to prove they obtained the software or licences legitimately, or face prosecution.

The increase in popularity of CD burners in recent years had made copying software easier, Mr Pravaz said. He also believed Internet auction sites were helping to distribute illegal software around the world. The BSAA estimates more than 80 per cent of all software sold on eBay are illegal copies.

According to Mr Pravaz, the BSAA experienced a flood of businesses registering towards the end of the truce. Locally, many software retailers said they had experienced an increase in sales of software in the previous weeks.

Software Centre manager Billy Leong said he noticed sales for business software had increased in the past three weeks. Microsoft Office was the most popular purchase and the majority of customers had been small to medium enterprises, he said.

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