The Business Software Alliance has called for tougher penalties for handlers of illegal software, after releasing figures indicating that the UK's IT industry lost £290 million last year to piracy.
The BSA said nearly one in three business applications being used were illicit. That's below the previous year's "piracy rate" of 31%, but growth in the market for business applications still pushed lost revenue up £80 million on 1998's losses.
BSA campaign relations manager Mike Newton told PC Week that the UK lost its position as the country with the least piracy to Germany, whose rate last year was 28%, from 33% in 1997.
BSA's research is conducted by International Planning Research, which has developed algorithms to compare the average number of software packages used per business PC with actual sales data supplied by BSA members and third-party researchers.
The Internet is the latest headache for the BSA in the fight against piracy, Newton said, because vendors selling illegally downloaded software have proliferated and are difficult to police.
"We need to make users aware of the fact that they must make sure software must have a legal licence - downloads from the Net may not be legal," he said.
The BSA hopes to encourage ISPs to introduce a code of practice barring their hosting pirate reseller sites.
"The laws holding ISPs accountable are lax, but they should take more responsibility," Newton said.
The BSA also plans to continue lobbying governments to introduce tougher penalties for offenders to encourage businesses to be more vigilant about buying pirated programs.
Custodial sentences for software piracy have been rare. Most offenders are let off with a fine.
The Computer Software and Services Association's (CSSA) executive director Tony Lewis said: "As long as the means of reproducing continues to be easily available, its going to be a temptation to the criminal element."
Lewis said IT directors should take the lead in clamping down on piracy.
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