Efforts to clamp down on British businesses that use pirated software are having no effect, with corporate bootleggers costing the IT industry £1 billion a year in the UK alone.
According to figures released by the Business Software Alliance, a lobby group supported by the industry’s largest players, more than a quarter of software used by British companies last year was copied illegally.
The figures for the UK last year show no change against those for 2004, suggesting that there is a "hardcore" of businesses intent on running illegal software, the BSA said.
Worldwide losses from software piracy amounted to $34 billion (£18bn) in 2005, up $1.6 billion on 2004.
The highest piracy rates were found in Vietnam and Zimbabwe, where 90 per cent of software was illegal.
Full results of the study can be found here.
"UK piracy levels have remained constant," Siobhan Carroll, the BSA's regional manager for Northern Europe, said.
"Lack of respect for IP [intellectual property] in the form of software piracy is having a hugely detrimental effect on the UK’s IT industry, and we hope the Government continues to drive awareness around IP and pushes for the introduction of tougher enforcement measures."
According to the BSA, an increase access to high-speed Internet connections in the UK has fuelled widespread copyright infringement as it becomes easier to download counterfeit software.
The body is now calling for tougher financial penalties against firms that run pirated programs and is pointing to territories such as China where progress has been made against pirates over the past year, albeit from very high levels.
Julie Strawson, the BSA’s chair in the UK, said: "It may seem like an odd model to cite, but the Chinese Government has been pro-active and piracy there fell from 90 per cent to 86 per cent last year. That is still very high, but China is an emerging economy."
The BSA considers the decrease in the PC software piracy rate in China particularly significant, considering the vast PC growth taking place in the Chinese IT market.
In the UK the Government has launched an ISO Standard aimed at helping firms comply with copyright laws.
But companies such as Microsoft, the world's largest software developer, have been forced to take matters into their own hands by launching civil legal cases against persistent offenders.
"Company directors must take charge of the situation and ensure that their companies are only using software for which they have the correct licences," Ms Carroll said.
"While the ISO is aimed at larger companies, we welcome its launch and urge [small and medium-sized businesses] to adopt the spirit it advocates by purchasing and managing their software responsibly."
Ms Strawson said: "In the UK we have a software industry to be proud of and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the big names that are affected. Many smaller IT companies are being held back from innovation due to such a high level of pirated software.
"A real sea-change in attitude is required, otherwise companies will continue to believe it’s acceptable practice to use illegal software."
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