The Business Software Alliance announced at Comdex that it would offer free auditing software so that companies could ensure all their packages were licensed. However, the greatest problem it faces is awareness - over 60 per cent of UK company directors are unaware that they are personally liable if their organisations use pirate software.
This figure emerged from a survey by the Federation Against Software Theft, based on meetings with 300 directors. The overwhelming verdict of the meetings was that "the vast majority" of directors have little understanding of software copyright laws. Less than five per cent of those questioned knew for sure that their companies had software licence management systems in place.
The BSA's offer is targeted mainly at small to medium companies that are deterred by the price of commercial auditing products from companies such as Symantec. The BSA's Softscan tool will be available worldwide from next month. It conducts an inventory of hard drives and generates a report that can then be compared with licence agreements. As a side-effect, it can also confirm the versions of programs installed and highlight overlaps or redundancies.
However, the product only works with Windows programs, and must be loaded manually on each computer. However, this means it has not underlying database to update or centralised administration workload.
Robert Holleyman, president of the BSA, said companies needed to realise that penalties for piracy could be severe. Companies have paid $18 billion in penalties to the BSA since 1992.
The US remains a greater culprit than more publicised pirate markets such as China. In the US, where the BSA has its largest anti-piracy programme, piracy rates are falling - down from 34 per cent last year from 26 per cent the year before - but dollar losses to the software industry are rising as the market expands, and totalled $2.9 billion last year.
Holleyman said the emergence of Internet distribution of software and of network computers made the issue more critical as software can be downloaded so easily.
The highest rate of piracy in the world is 98 per cent in Indonesia, but rates are dropping in nearly all countries - although not in Switzerland, the BSA said.
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