The Business Software Alliance has claimed that software piracy is robbing communities of much needed funding for police, education and housing.
The US pressure group, which is funded by major software vendors, acknowledged that four out of five pieces of software in the US is bought legally.
But the remaining pirated material is costing the industry $11.4bn and local government $1.7bn in lost taxes every year.
This would pay for 100 middle schools or 10,800 affordable housing units, or hire nearly 25,000 experienced police officers.
"The US may have the lowest PC software piracy rate in the world, but one out of every five pieces of software put into service is unlicensed," said Neil MacBride, vice president of anti-piracy and general counsel at the BSA.
"This is a problem for the software industry, and creates major legal and security risks for the companies involved.
"The most tragic aspect is that the lost revenues to tech companies and local governments could be supporting thousands of good jobs and much needed social services in our communities."
The survey studied eight US states and found significant local variations from the national figure of 20 per cent.
The piracy rate was 25 per cent in California and Nevada, dropping to 19 per cent in Florida and New York.
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