Two weeks ago Microsoft Australia made legal history when it won in excess of $2 million in damages against a Parramatta-based reseller, Megaplus International. The week before it secured around $44,000 damages against another Sydney reseller, ABC Peripherals of Neutral Bay. In both cases the reseller had been convicted of software piracy.
So do the cases reflect a get serious strategy being adopted within the industry? Seems so. They were the first Australian software piracy cases to be settled in court, and the case against Megaplus International was the largest Australian software copyright judgment to date. Both are considered industry benchmarks - setting a standard for future prosecutions with harsher penalties.
"We're becoming less tolerant," said Scott Porter, Asia-Pacific OEM manager for IBM. "We're dealing with characters of questionable ethics, who have little respect for the industry."
Jim Macnamara, chairman of the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA), agrees. "If there is any evidence of fraudulent activity we will investigate it. The message we're sending out to software pirates [both hard disk loaders and counterfeiters] is that they're going to get caught."
A BSAA survey that analysed the number of computers sold against software purchased showed that for the period of 1996 Australian manufacturers experienced losses attributable to piracy to the tune of $200 million.
So, what steps are being taken to reduce this type of fraudulent activity?
The BSAA operates a "three-pronged" strategy in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, involving litigation, reseller and end user education, and the provision of advice and software auditing tools.
"We have a team of investigators out in the market regularly buying computers anonymously, in what we term colloquially "trap-purchases", said Macnamara. "Our team visits resellers, markets and investigates ads placed in classifieds. Retailers just can't compete in an environment when this type of illegal activity is occurring."
Macnamara added that in extreme cases the BSAA will obtain warrants to search the premises of suspected software pirates and, using specialist software, the team can pinpoint instances of piracy "even when the illegality has been deleted".
The BSAA offers rewards of up to $2000 for information leading to the prosecution of individuals involved in piracy.
Macnamara said that the BSAA is keen to work with distributors and resellers to further reduce the piracy rate, adding that the bottom line is that software pirates, "are really hurting themselves. When they use counterfeit software from overseas, they increase the risk of viruses, and they rob themselves of support, manuals and an upgrade path. Stop and think about the risks - it's just not worth it."
For information, or to report a piracy case:
Business Software Association of AustraliaTel 1800 02 1143INFO: www.bsa.org