Last year 50 companies settled with the Business Software Alliance (BSA) for infringing its members' intellectual property.
Recent research, carried out on behalf of the BSA, revealed that 32 per cent of UK companies are either not software compliant or don't know whether the software installed has been copied or downloaded illegally.
Some people just find it impossible to believe that they are doing anything wrong. In talks with one company, we were asked: "What information do you have that shows my company not paying for our software licences?"
After highlighting the dozens of illegal copies of three leading software companies being used, the director replied: "Well, that's only three software publishers. There are thousands out there. What have three measly companies got to do with us?"
A very large UK organisation attempted a similar, but equally unsuccessful, rationalisation for operating illegally.
It felt that it used "so much" software, and had purchased "so much" in the previous years, that it was unreasonable for the BSA to be troubling them about the few odd copies for which they had no licences.
The director said: "And in any case, it's due to poor customer relations on your behalf that we haven't updated our licences." Interestingly, the 'few odd copies' resulted in an outlay in excess of £50,000.
These examples illustrate how relaxed an attitude some organisations have towards software compliance, and how little they often know about the scale of the problem.
Of course, it's not only the end-users that are to blame; disparate locations also seem to cause problems.
When digging into the reasons for non-compliance at one firm, its UK country chief said: "Well, we're a global company. Clearly we can't be compliant at all of our sites."
Companies often trip up by not defining clearly who in their company is responsible; finance, legal, sales and IT departments are usually quick to point the finger at one another.
Those that sell software, from large resellers to small online retailers, also have a role to play and businesses are often duped into buying illegal software.
We recently had an email from an irresponsible software reseller who wrote: "I'm tired of dodging the BSA and other law enforcement agencies. I have been selling hooky software for quite some time, and it's time for me to come clean."
Not only did this trader confess to his illegal activity, he tried to sell us the company sales database so the BSA could take action against his customers. The BSA politely declined the offer.
The BSA's settlements, and the reasons why companies have found themselves in such a situation, can be broken down into those that are ignorant, those with a lack of resources and those that are cutting corners in the belief that they will get away with it.
The BSA invests a great deal in educating organisations on the various forms of software piracy and the associated risks. We urge companies to remember the value software brings and treat it like any other valuable asset.
For those that are cutting corners, compliance is more of a moral issue. We want to encourage a culture where firms think it's wrong to have any illegal use of software, and where, if anyone goes to a new job and sees illegal use, they would do something about it.
Unfortunately, it seems that there will always be a few people that just won't consider that they will ever be found out.
This is exemplified by the obvious panic in the voice of a recent non-compliant director when he realised that there was no way to defer responsibility any longer.
He blurted out in typical schoolboy fashion: "The postman dropped the new software through the post-box and in a nervous frenzy my dog ate it! So there's no longer a reason for me to have the licence."
Although these hard-to-believe examples make light of the seriousness of software compliance, being caught in breach of copyright law is no laughing matter.
By understanding how organisations come unstuck and addressing these issues, it should be possible to minimise the risk.
Siobhan Carroll is regional manager for Northern Europe at the BSA.
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