Piracy Focus: Microsoft's anti-piracy manager speaks

David Gregory anti-piracy manager at Microsoft sheds some light on the challenges he faces in the battle against software piracy.


"Intellectual property" basically describes the physical manifestation of a person's idea. An architect's plans, a best-selling novel, a recording or even a painting are all manifestations of someone's original idea. James Dyson's idea and drawings for a bag-less household cleaner, (his intellectual property) became the revolutionary Dyson vacuum cleaner. The same principals apply to Computer Software Programmes.

Hundreds of individuals spend thousands of hours of brainwork producing millions of lines of code which in law is treated as intellectual property. When these ideas are finally produced as software code on paper and manufactured on floppy disk or CD-ROM they are considered an "artistic or literary work". The task of a software anti-piracy manager is to educate people to recognise that this intellectual property is the same as any other type of property and that theft of intellectual property is, quite simply theft.

If theft is theft is theft then why should the theft of a computer programme be treated any differently to the theft of a Computer or a TV or a car? If the plans for a building are stolen the police are called in but if a software licence agreement goes missing.....? It is mainly a process of education.

Many laws protect intellectual property such as the Copyright Designs & Patents Act. Recently a director of a computer dealership received a 5-year prison sentence for software theft - so the penalties are real!

However despite strong laws protecting copyright owners in both the UK and USA it is still a fact that 31% (or 1 in 3 pieces) of software code in use in the UK is not legally licensed or counterfeit. This represents a huge financial loss for UK computer resellers and software developers, many of which are small businesses themselves and rely on regular and growing cash flow. Many people also do not realise that Scotland is renowned worldwide for its game industry software developers. If we could reduce the theft of software in this country to the present USA level of 27 percent then a further 31,265 jobs, £610m tax revenues and £1.8bn sales increases would be achieved. That's 31 thousand jobs for the UK IT industry both upstream in the form of new innovative software developers but also downstream in the distribution, packaging, marketing and dealer chain.

Microsoft and some other software developers have the size and capacity to appoint Anti-Piracy Managers. This role can and is used with the "whole industry" in mind. If someone does not fight for piracy rate reduction then how is a start-up software developer going to get a bank to fund him or her? The bank manager will say: "Well the UK now has say a 90% piracy rate, so you are never going to get paid for your work, so why should the bank fund you?" We (AP Mgrs) have a duty to protect and recover revenue duly owned to the resellers, distributors, service companies, and yes ultimately the software developers themselves.

In some software houses the settlement revenues are put to some good. Microsoft for example runs the European Scholar Scheme where it uses revenue recovered from counterfeiters to fund training re- schemes for the un-employed.

The vast majority of the UK channel is legal and ethical. It is interesting that customers supply the vast majority of complaints regarding illegal dealer practice to either local trading standards or to software developers themselves. Whilst all allegations are followed up the real problem lies at the source of illegal software into the UK . Worldwide counterfeiting now accounts for around 10% of the world's economy. Whilst people might think a "fake" T-shirt does nobody any harm, the worry is more about software with viruses, fake medicines and mechanical parts. It's worth noting though that even a fake T-shirt threatens someone's legitimate livelihood!

As more and more illegal software moves into the realms of organised crime software companies are increasingly being asked to partner with other UK enforcement agencies such as Police and Customs officers to track down and litigate against the top-tier companies involved in this criminal trade. With increasingly sophisticated criminal distribution networks this can sometimes take a long time. However once a trade route is uncovered and stopped there is a noticeable decrease in piracy rates.

Customer and channel education is the key. Organisations such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), European Leisure Software Publishing Association (ELSPA) and others all work to educate the public about illegal software and its potential dangers.

It can still be hard to spot software piracy sometimes and often the golden rule is "If the price looks too good to be true and the supplier is not willing to reveal its source" then maybe you should dig a little harder?