AN EMPLOYEE with the state-run regional office in Košice has claimed that more than half of their Microsoft Office and Windows applications are pirated copies.
Edita Vojtová, head of Košice's internal administration department with the regional office said: "If we uninstalled all illegally used software we would completely paralyse the state administration".
She said her office had invested Sk5 million ($104,000) in 2001 for partial legalisation of its software, but to be completely legal they would need an additional Sk40 million ($830,000).
The criminal police department responsible for software crime said that a similar situation could be found at other state administration bodies.
Peter Sucha, from the department of economic crime with police headquarters in Bratislava said: "Of course state administration bodies use illegal software".
According to Sucha, about 43 per cent of all software used in Slovakia is pirated. This estimation is reached by comparing the proportion of sold brand computer sets to the number of sold software packages.
"When common users use illegal software, I can't presume that the state administration is 100 per cent clean either," he said.
Microsoft Slovakia's major account manager Roman Sládek, who is also president of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an international alliance of software providers, said that Microsoft was not surprised by the situation in Košice.
He added that Microsoft did not intend to initiate legal proceedings against the office.
"We are currently negotiating a system of bulk licensing for the state administration. Our internal deadline to agree on what that form will be is April 2002," he said.
According to a BSA piracy study published in May 2001, the problem of software piracy is worse in eastern Europe than in the West. Western European countries' average piracy rate in 2000 was 34 per cent compared to eastern Europe's 63 per cent (see chart).
Sládek said that last year's December 5 meeting of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda with Bill Gates, where the two men talked about the process of providing the whole state sector with licensed software, was a step in the right direction.
Sucha claimed that he was almost powerless to fight software crime because his small computer crime department - "It's me and a few other people" - is expected to cover all of Slovakia.
But as of July 1, 2002 his department will hire more men to allow regular audits to track down software pirates and other computer criminals, he said.
Sucha added that a lack of money for legal software was one of the main reasons why software piracy has flourished.
"Also, many people don't consider this a crime at all. In general this is not seen as socially damaging criminal activity, and on hearing that somebody uses pirated software people just say 'so what?'."
He said that despite the fact that software crime is punishable by up to two years in jail or a fine, not one pirated software user has ever been put behind bars.
Sucha added that a tougher attitude against computer criminals was expected from Slovakia by the European Union (EU).
"If we want to join the EU, it's very important that we're able to safeguard copyright protection," he said.