Consumers using broadband are making the problem of software piracy worse, according to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which has called on the government to develop stringent copyright protection regulations.
The increasing use of broadband means that more consumers are moving away from car boot sales and markets to the internet when they want to buy or download pirated software.
Broadband makes it easier to access websites that sell such software, or to visit peer-to-peer networks to download not only music but copies of popular software such as Windows XP.
In April 2003, the BSA issued notices to 22 UK-based online sites for the illegal distribution of software.
And the alliance warned that consumers run a real risk of infecting their PCs with viruses and other malicious code.
Students are among the biggest downloaders of pirated software, according to a recent study carried out for the BSA in the US market.
The study found that 23 per cent of US college and university students have downloaded software, with only 32 per cent paying for it all or most of the time.
"Copyright infringement is a huge problem in today's society," said BSA chairman Mark Floisand.
Another study carried out for the BSA showed that, if software piracy rates in the UK could be reduced from 25 to 15 per cent, this would increase the value of the IT sector (software, hardware and related services) from £37.5bn to £54.4bn and create over 40,000 jobs over four years.
The BSA has called on the European Union to take a "zero tolerance" approach to intellectual property theft.
This can only be achieved by improving legislation, and while the trade organisation welcomes the forthcoming EU Enforcement Directive, it warned that this will not eliminate the inconsistencies and weaknesses in EU member states' national laws.
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