A former official from the Federation Against Software Theft has set up an alternative compliance organisation, the Initiative for Software Compliance (ISC).
The ISC launched its confidential auditing and advice services on Wednesday, aiming to take a gentler approach than the enforcement agencies, FAST and the British Software Alliance (BSA).
Roger Woods, an ISC director said: "We support what the BSA stands for but they are taking advantage of the law and corporate organisations don?t know how to protect themselves."
The BSA ran into criticism late last year for a campaign of toughly worded letters warning small businesses of the penalties of running unlicensed software.
The ISC claims that, although company directors are generally aware of their personal liability for corporate legal breaches, they are often unaware that this includes both accidental and malicious breaches of the software licensing laws. It estimated that thepersonal bill for non-compliance penalties could be #2.5 billion for the directors of large companies.
Awareness of compliance issues has increased following the heavy handed campaigns of organisations like the BSA, but the ISC believes that a non-confrontational approach would yield better results.
The organisation is headed by Michael Ludlam, the former deputy chairman of FAST, and its partners include compliance consultancy SGS Yarsley International, legal firms Baker McKenzie, Pinset Curtis and Tucker Turner Kingsley Wood, and consultancy Coopers & Lybrand.
Ludlam said: "Our continuous compliance programme will be a robust defence against legal actions from software developers and the industry?s enforcement agencies, but it will also put managers back in control."
Although the ISC is a not-for-profit organisation, members pay an annual subscription fee covering an initial ?health check? and a software audit, which are carried out by SGS, a DTI-approved compliance examiner. The ISC has also outlined written compliance standards, for members to use as guidelines. If the company passes the audit it is awarded a formal ISC certificate of compliance.
If the health check shows up problems, members can go to partner consultancies Coopers & Lybrand or WPS Group for further assistance.
Gerry o? Neill, a Coopers senior manager who is involved in the initiative, said: "When the enforcement agencies swoop they demand immediate action but most companies would prefer to determine their own budget and time frame. The ISC helps them plan their approach rather than do a rush job."
Vernon D?Costa, Whitbread?s head of information management, applauded the idea but questioned whether large companies would benefit from the service. He added: "Most multinationals are aware of compliance issues already."
Graham Stewart, finance director of media buying company Media Vest, commented: "All companies want to be 100 per cent sure they?re acting within the law so anything that gives a further assurance has to be good."
He added: "If there is external as well as internal assurance that our systems are compliant this would give potential clients an even better impression."
The BSA and FAST were unavailable to comment on the new organisation.
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