Levels of software piracy in the UK have risen for the first time since 1994, according to the annual report from the Business Software Alliance (BSA).
Over the past eight years the global piracy rate has dropped 10 points to an average of 39 per cent. But in the UK the level increased one point to 26 per cent in 2002.
According to the BSA, the rise indicates the level of complacency that still exists within UK enterprises.
"The main reasons for software piracy are general complacency, where a firm overuses its legitimate licences as the company grows, and the ease of access to bootleg software over broadband," said Richard Saunders, former chairman of the BSA and a member of its UK committee.
He explained that economic pressures had caused firms to take risks with software licences as budgets come under pressure.
The UK software industry lost out on £204m last year, and the BSA claims that reducing the piracy rate from 26 per cent to 15 per cent would increase the value of the IT sector from £37.5bn to £54.4bn.
This would bring an additional £10bn in revenues towards the UK gross domestic product, and a further £2.5bn in tax revenue.
Alongside stiff penalties for copyright infringement, which in the UK can include unlimited fines and a 10-year jail sentence, Saunders said that users are risking their businesses with software that is often riddled with viruses and does not deliver the bonuses of patches, updates and technical support.
To tackle the growth of piracy the BSA is using telephone help lines, web-based support and a number of guides on its website.
"We're looking at changing the mindset and attitude of companies, in a way that is similar to the government's drink drive campaign," said Saunders.
"Prevention technology only goes so far, so we're advocating software management policies and audits. If a company comes to us for help, that's what it will get; not a knock on the door from the lawyers.
"[But] there comes a point where people don't or won't listen. We settled with 75 companies last year, took down 55,000 infringing products on the internet and issued 1,700 takedown notices to ISPs."
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