Fines for software 'piracy' in the UK need to increase sharply, the Business Software Alliance software industry lobby group has argued as it released its latest world software piracy figures.
Globally, the percentage of PC pirated software in 2010 was 42 percent, equivalent to $59 billion (£36 billion) in lost business, compared to the $95 billion licensed legitimately. A growing proportion of this piracy is happening in developing countries that now account for half the world's PCs.
The UK piracy figure was 27 percent - the same as Germany's - but worse than that of the US and Japan, which scored the lowest piracy rates of 20 percent each. This UK number was equivalent to £1.2 in lost licensing revenue to vendors, the organisation calculated.
In the face of piracy levels that have barely moved in the UK since the survey started six years ago, the BSA said it wanted the government to increase the scale of damages that can be awarded as a deterrent.
"The current damages law isn't tough enough to deter those businesses that still think it is acceptable to use unlicensed software," complained BSA senior legal director, Sarah Coombes. "The Ministry of Justice acknowledged this in 2007, suggesting this issue would be addressed, but no progress has been made to date,"she said.
"The UK IT industry is a dynamic sector that supports almost 600,000 high-skill, high salary jobs and contributes billions of pounds in taxes each year, and we need tougher IP laws to protect it."
The BSA didn't say what scale of damages it thought would be appropriate if reforms were made.
The organisation has named and shamed a number of small UK businesses caught using unlicensed software in recent times, with total fines totalling of £2.2 million during 2010.
The demand comes only days before the expected publication of the independent Hargreaves Review on copyright, which is expected to recommend cleaning up a number of legal anomalies, some of which might not please IP campaigners.
The BSA's bigger political problem could be its image as a lobby group for big software houses, including Apple, Microsoft, Symantec and Adobe, and the feeling that it persecutes smaller businesses that infringe licensing laws while letting larger ones settle quietly. Others simply question the way the organisation comes up with its figures.
It's also not clear that licence breaches have necessarily been deliberate. Rather than piracy, "the big thing is under-licensing or over-use," said the BSA's EMEA director of compliance marketing, Julian Swan, to Computerworld UK.
"What it interesting is the level of ignorance about piracy," said Swan. "A lot of piracy is negligence rather than deliberate wrongdoing."