Exclusive: Loot exposed as tool for software pirates

The classified ads paper Loot is in danger of being reported to the Trading Standards following an investigation into software piracy by ZDNet UK News

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) on Tuesday issued a clear ultimatum to the classified daily ads paper Loot -- sort out the software pirates or face the Trading Standards.

Loot has been identified by the BSA as a tool used by software pirates to sell their illegal wares. Mike Newton, campaign manager for the BSA said: "We have evidence the title is used for criminal activity", including letters of complaints from the public.

Loot claims it does everything possible to deal with software pirates and points to its editorial policy which states: `All copy offered for publication in Loot must be legal'. Despite this, ZDNet called four numbers from Monday's edition and located four different sources of cheap software. Three of the four sources admitted the software was copied.

The BSA has sent Loot guidelines on how to tackle software piracy, which the paper admits it has lost. One guideline, according to Newton, suggests that, "if software is offered for 25 percent of the normal price... something is wrong."

The BSA also advised Loot to publish land-line numbers in its advertisements instead of mobile numbers. All the contacts ZDNet called used mobile numbers although Loot insists it does have all its advertisers' land line numbers on file. Newton confirmed that Loot had not yet responded to the BSA's recommendations. "We would welcome a response," he said, "we are hoping Loot will co-operate but if they do not, we will have to take it further."

Marketing manager for Loot, Icky Hasnain claimed the paper has adequate filtering procedures and said his staff are alerted when adverts for software less than £10 or £15 are placed. But this is well below BSA guidelines: for a copy of Photoshop Version 5 -- (RRP £490) -- £15 represents just 3 percent of the recommended price, or 22 percent below BSA guidelines. Hasnain maintains that Loot is working towards "zero pirated software" but argued "no system is foolproof".

That observation was proven correct Wednesday evening when ZDNet set up a deal in London with a software pirate who advertises "regularly" in Loot. The man, who did not give his name, offered our reporter more than 4,000 different software applications including complete families of software from Adobe, Macromedia, Microsoft and MetaCreations. A copy of Adobe's Photoshop V5.0 was bought for £30 with Kai's Power tools V5.0 thrown in for an extra £10. The man offered free technical support and a catalogue with a full range of pirated software.

Hasnain claims that all illegal software sellers are reported to the police although no details were offered. He went on to describe Loot's relationship with the police as "symbiotic", again no details were offered and when asked Hasnain refused to elaborate.

ZDNet contacted the Evening Standard and Exchange and Mart about advertising policies in their classified ads sections. The Standard claimed it did not advertise software while Exchange and Mart admitted it has no policy and described the amount of software advertised on its pages as "very small".

Loot's mobile touting discount vendors:

  • Most commonly offered software was Adobe Photoshop (all versions), Quark Xpress, Pagemaker, Illustrator 8, Corel Draw.

  • Two of the mobile numbers turned out to be the same contact point. Meetings were arranged for exchange of software at a London tube station. A quick tour of the software was offered on a laptop.

  • One Loot advertiser said he had a catalogue of 4,000 software programs, including Office Pro 97, Win 95 and 98.

  • Discounts for bundles were common: eg £50 for 5 programs, where £30 was standard price for a single program.

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