Quarter of all Aussie software is illegal

Australia's software piracy rate is dropping, but not as aggressively as some in the industry would like.

Australia's software piracy rate is dropping, but not as aggressively as some in the industry would like.

Twenty-nine percent of software installed on PCs in Australia in 2006 was obtained illegally, according to a new study by analyst house IDC, sponsored by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) -- a two percent drop from 2005 levels. In comparison, China has a piracy rate of 82 percent, while globally the average is 35 percent.

In 2007, Australia spent over AU$1,000 per capita -- AU$25.4 billion -- on IT, including computers, peripherals, network equipment, packaged software and IT services. The IT spend accounts for three percent of gross domestic product, an industry employing 178,000 workers in 23,500 companies and AU$11.6 billion worth of tax.

The BSA believes these numbers could be larger if piracy were reined in. "We would like to see a 10 percent drop in the next four years," a spokesperson for the Alliance's Australian arm said. "In order to sustain a healthy innovative environment, protection of IP is essential."

The Alliance received 1900 calls on its hotline reporting piracy in 2007, resulting in AU$560,000 plus in settlements on 14 cases. The average settlement amount was AU$45,000, while the highest settlement was AU$125,000.

The calls come from people who are in contact with the company such as employees or third party vendors. Reporting of cases can be done anonymously, but to follow a case an affidavit is required from the informant.

Some of the calls turn out to be bogus reports, others minor infringements. The rest are still going through due diligence, according to the spokesperson.

Of the offenders, only a handful were "extraordinarily flagrant breakers" according to the BSA, with many businesses using illegal software being horrified when they found the piracy occurring in their organisation. It may be a case of employees downloading the software unbeknownst to management, or buying one copy and having multiple people use it, the spokesperson said.

It is especially difficult to keep track when businesses are growing, the spokesperson said, adding that "sometimes the auditing of software can be overlooked".

Vendors whose software has been illegally downloaded include Adobe, Autodesk, Symantec, Apple, Trend Micro, McAfee and Microsoft.

The BSA wants everyone in the business environment to take responsibility for their software and have a software asset management (SAM) process, and runs campaigns to raise awareness of licensing requirements.

The BSA offers resources for companies to help work out if they are complying with licensing obligations on its Web site.

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