SMBs get help against software piracy

Singapore government and trade associations launch campaign to help small businesses better manage their software licensing assets.

SINGAPORE--The government has launched a nationwide campaign aimed at curbing software piracy within the small and midsize business (SMB) sector.

Statutory board, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos), and the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SITF) announced Tuesday, a three-part program to help local SMBs manage their software licensing assets.

Called the SME (small and midsize enterprise) IT Protect Campaign, the initiative encourages companies to undergo a voluntary software audit--led by the Business Software Alliance (BSA)--to determine if their licenses are valid. It puts up incentives such as license discounts and amnesty from BSA-initiated enforcement until June 21, 2010.

At a media briefing here, Jeffrey Hardee, BSA's regional director and vice president, said Singapore's piracy rate for 2007 stood at 37 percent. Citing figures from IDC, Hardee noted that while the research firm did not distinguish between large and smaller enterprises in its study, SMEs are "more prone to software piracy [because] large public-listed companies have more at stake".

"SMEs [think they] fly under the radar, but the reality is SMEs are also caught," Hardee said.

The copyright law's "safe harbor" offered by the campaign gives companies that complete the software healthcheck audit, protection from "BSA-initiated enforcement" should there be copyright infringement. The global industry body represents the interest of software companies, and its members include Microsoft, Adobe, CA, Sybase, IBM and SAP.

While this does not preclude legal action taken by BSA members on their own, Hardee said its members have agreed to observe the safe harbor provision. Safe harbor protection, however, will not apply if infringing companies are reported to the authorities by external parties.

Falling piracy rates
According to Hardee, software piracy in Singapore has been on the decline over the past few years, and is one of the lowest in the region. In 2007, Hong Kong stood at 51 percent, Thailand at 78 percent, South Korea at 43 percent and China at 82 percent, said Hardee.

According to an Ipos-commissioned survey in 2005, nearly a third of SMEs in Singapore were not compliant with the country's copyright laws.

Under Singapore's Copyright Act, individuals or companies using unlicensed or pirated software for commercial gain face a fine of up to S$20,000 (US$13,270) and up to six months imprisonment.

Ipos director-general, Liew Woon Yin, said the program is not aimed at encouraging the use of proprietary software over open source per se, but that it is "relevant" for companies that are using proprietary software.

Liew said: "We want SMEs to be more competitive with the right tools, so they can keep costs down."

Anne Tay, head of member relations at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) said programs targeted to increase awareness are also important in helping companies determine if they are "overlicensed". Some of these businesses are not aware that they can uninstall software from one PC and use the license rightfully in another, resulting in purchasing of duplicate licenses and additional cost, Tay said. ASME has some 6,000 members.

Wong Loke Yeow, chairman of the SITF's security and governance chapter, outlined the need for the industry to protect the "symbiotic relationship" between software vendors and users. Vendors rely on revenue to stay afloat, while users rely on the continual updating of good software to keep business running, Wong said.

So far, Microsoft, Symantec and Autodesk have signed up to provide discounts on software with the campaign, while the SITF continues to negotiate with more of its software vendor members for more such offers, Wong told ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the briefing.