Novell thrashes software pirates

Novell has won the largest ever ruling in a software piracy case in the US this week when the company was awarded $25.9 million (£16 million) by the Utah District court.

The lawsuit alleged that Utah-based Network Trade Centre (NTC) had fraudulently obtained Novell products, upgrading the software and selling it on as new -- much of it ending up in Europe. NTC and its president Mark Bondiett were found liable by the court.

"To get a result like this is superb," said licensing manager Martin Smith. "The size of the award is important. The UK doesn't have such a punitive attitude and the penalty in such cases is normally very small."

According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA) over $11 billion (£6.5billion) is lost worldwide each year because of software piracy. In the UK alone, £200 million is lost to the illegal software copying business. Mike Newton, BSA campaign manager, said that it was only the tip of the iceberg. "These figures relate only to PC packaged software. If you extend it to server applications the numbers would multiply significantly," he said.

Newton criticised the present UK laws, claiming that UK legislation should match the tough US laws. However, with the possibility of unlimited fines and a two year prison sentence, he added that the law is 'no feather-duster'.

In response to the problem of illegal software, BSA is launching a new campaign called Crackdown 98. Aimed at small to medium-sized businesses, which account for half of the £200 million lost to pirated software each year, the campaign carries the warning -- 'Get legal or face the consequences'. The BSA will be writing to 20,000 small to medium-sized businesses and part of the letter will be a 10 point questionnaire. Any company failing to respond to this questionnaire will be blacklisted on a database and earmarked for future action -- although how punishing this 'action' will be is unknown. "There will be follow up action so the best advice I can give is -- don't get on the list," Newton warned.

Such businesses are seen to be most vulnerable to pirated software and Newton believes often the managers are unaware of the problem. He hopes the campaign will encourage such businesses to ensure that their systems are in order. "We are not here to wag sticks, we are here to help," he said. To this end a hotline, Web site and brochures are available to give advice on how audit software.

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