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BSA turns up the heat in war on software piracy

Five policemen storm the office of a small company and order a manager to stand back from his computer. He looks on nervously as they rifle through his desk and find bootlegged software CDs. They dump his computer into an evidence bag, take him into custody, and lead him out of his office.
The scene was staged, part of a video sent to 7,000 of Slovakia's 58,000 small and mid-sized firms in February by an association of software providers named Business Software Alliance (BSA).
BSA leaders say that although the events depicted on the tape are not real, by distributing the tape they are sending a clear message to businesses: software piracy is a serious crime, and a five year maximum jail sentence is a real threat if company software is not properly licenced.


A staged BSA video sent to 7,000 Slovak firms depicts a police raid on a firm using illegal software.
Courtesy BSA

Five policemen storm the office of a small company and order a manager to stand back from his computer. He looks on nervously as they rifle through his desk and find bootlegged software CDs. They dump his computer into an evidence bag, take him into custody, and lead him out of his office.

The scene was staged, part of a video sent to 7,000 of Slovakia's 58,000 small and mid-sized firms in February by an association of software providers named Business Software Alliance (BSA).

BSA leaders say that although the events depicted on the tape are not real, by distributing the tape they are sending a clear message to businesses: software piracy is a serious crime, and a five year maximum jail sentence is a real threat if company software is not properly licenced.

"We wanted to come out with an aggressive campaign," said BSA president Roman Sládek. "People should see what a real raid looks like. People should see that they will lose their computer and CDs, that they will face penalties and time in jail."

The video, which was mailed to companies in plastic bags used by police to collect evidence, urges managers to "legalise software, while there's still time".

According to a 1999 BSA survey, 46% of software run on new computers in Slovakia is pirated; BSA leaders say it is common for firms to buy used computers with software they haven't paid for, or for firms with new computers to make copies of a programme licenced for use on one computer, and then use them on all other PCs in the firm. BSA is hoping the video will raise awareness that such actions are criminal.


IT managers in firms using illegal software can lose their computers and face five-year jail sentences.
Courtesy BSA

"We've already seen positive results from the campaign," said Sládek. "People have started to ask their IT people if everything is in order, and to call our special advice hotline to make sure they are using software legally."

The hard-hitting video is part of a wider BSA media and information campaign waged since 1997. Besides media campaigns, BSA has also conducted training sessions for police, judges and prosecutors, and uses a database and network of inside 'informers' to locate cases of copyright violation in firms.

Its war on software crime has so far yielded success, BSA says. Between 1997 and 2000, software piracy in Slovakia dropped 5-10% each year, and Slovakia's 46% rate of software piracy is lower than that of Poland (60%), Greece (71%) or Portugal (71%). The success has come after a police crackdown in the late 1990s on illegal use of software - a crackdown encouraged and publicised by BSA.

"Companies saw what could happen to them, and they learned the importance of ensuring their companies had legal software, which is why we have seen a dramatic drop [in software crime] in previous years," explained BSA's Sládek.


Some business leaders object to BSA's video, which they say portrays illegal software users "like murderers".
Courtesy BSA

However, despite BSA's success with larger firms, the costs of investing into software are often prohibitive for smaller-sized companies, forcing many to choose between legality and survival.

"Expense budgets in Slovakia are lower, but software prices are similar to those in the West, which makes legal software use difficult for Slovak firms," said Bratislava IT manager Renata N., who made the costly decision last year to legalise software she found on the hard drives of 10 computers her company purchased second-hand - software that hadn't been licenced to the firm.

"We ended up paying for the software so that we could sleep at night - 10,000 crowns ($200) for each computer. Our company is doing well, so we could afford to be legal, but for other firms legal software is a financial back-breaker."

Since it is still common practice in Slovakia for hardware firms to sell used computers without erasing the previous owners' software, some wonder if it is fair for BSA to go after end users. "Many of these firms don't even know they are using software illegally," said Juraj Majtán, director of the Agency for the Development of Small and Medium-Sized Firms. "BSA should target distributors."

Majtán also highlighted the struggle of Slovak firms to stay IT-compatible with the rest of the world while working with smaller budgets. "BSA is cracking down on companies that are forced to reinvest every two years in hardware and software. And for us, it isn't cheap," he said.

Sládek, though, shrugged off arguments that software is too expensive for small Slovak firms. "Companies could find the money if they thought they had too, just like they find money for cars, gas and other expenses. Slovak firms must learn that intellectual property is property. People don't understand that pirating software is a crime in the same way that stealing a car is a crime. If they want to use software, they have to pay for it," he said.

However, Sládek conceded that as BSA shifted its focus to small and mid-sized firms, it would become harder to maintain the level of success it has had so far in fighting software crime.

"The 5 - 10% decrease we saw in the first few years was due to large firms complying with the law," said Sládek. "Now that we are targeting small and mid-sized firms, it's not going to be so easy to see the same yearly decreases."

He added that with the rate of software piracy around 30% in most western countries, BSA would continue its activities indefinitely. "The problem of software crime will always exist," he said. "BSA will be in Slovakia forever."

The BSA's fight comes at a time when IT firms in Slovakia are coping with a global turndown in interest in IT.

Software firm LLP, which has operations throughout central Europe, including Slovakia, reported a turnover of $5.27 million for last year.

CEO of the firm, Adam Bager, said that the company's results reflected problems which his firm had in promoting products across the region.

"Our company, similar to many others in the sector, was hit by a decline in the market for our main product - software - and only improved at the end of last year," he said.

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