Australian police chastised for warez raids

The Australian Federal Police has been lambasted for its participation in last week's Internet piracy raids with some suggesting software houses should foot their own bill in the fight against illegal software use.

The Australian Federal Police has been lambasted for its participation in last week's Internet piracy raids with some suggesting software houses should foot their own bill in the fight against illegal software use.

A coordinated international crackdown saw premises across the country raided and computer equipment seized by the federal police last week, although no arrests have been made to date.

Many have expressed anger at what they consider to be the police enforcing copyright law for big software businesses whose own "inherent weaknesses" in software design are the root cause of the problem. Software houses should "put up or shut up" one ZDNet reader said and not be so keen to spend taxpayers' money.

"Personally think the police should keep themselves concerned with bigger cyber crime issues like child pornography or Denial of Service attacks. Not raiding peoples' homes and taking computer equipment just because some software or movie company might lose a bit of money. They need to get their priorities right," another ZDNet reader from Western Australia said.

Retired computer engineer Keith Styles from Melbourne agreed: "Let the police do their job of policing for the community and stop working for big business corporations. Copyright is a business problem not a police problem. Let the (corporations) do their own dirty work."

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), which has had a small e-crime team working on the job "on and off" since March this year, said it "can't please everyone," with an AFP spokesperson saying: "We get a lot of criticism that we don't do enough on copyright infringement."

"I can only say that it's well known that it's a multi-billion dollar industry...and serious criminality involved here."

However, of public concern over police involvement in the Australian raids, chairman of the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA), Jim Macnamara, said: "These people partly have a point."

The majority of copyright breaches come under civil offences and should be dealt with by the industry, he explained. However, where pirating is conducted for the purpose of sale it becomes a criminal offence and "in this case we would argue most strongly such (AFP) action was most appropriate," Macnamara said.

Whilst Macnamara accepts that piracy is largely a civil offence that occurs in the workplace, this he said was a "multimillion dollar international theft ring."

"Why should it be treated any differently than international smuggling rings dealing in any other goods?"

Asked if the BSAA and local software houses sponsor such police raids, Macnamara said: "We can't give the police money, obviously that÷Õ inappropriate." However, the BSAA will provide the police force with information and technical expertise of which it wears the cost, he said.

"We certainly welcome the (recent) action...we're very, very pleased and commend the authorities worldwide," Macnamara said.

The BSAA was not the only outfit applauding the recent raids, with the Australian Linux community supporting the crackdown which it believes will make Linux and open source alternatives more favourable.

The BSAA said that worldwide downloading of pirated software from the Web costs US$1 billion a year, with about 500,000 Warez pages and 115,000 crack sites available at the beginning of 2000.

Software piracy costs Australian manufacturers AU$250 million (US$128.7 million) a year and the local channel AU$286 million (US$147.2 million) a year, the BSAA claims.

Staff writer Rachel Lebihan reported from Sydney.

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