IT directors in the UK now face up to 10 years in jail if they fail to stamp out software theft in their companies.
The UK government has passed new legislation that extends the maximum penalty for software piracy and the use of unlicensed products from two to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine. The Copyright, etc and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002 also beefs up police powers to search businesses and seize computer equipment.
The act, which came into effect on 20 November 2002, harmonises the UK’s copyright and trademark theft laws and covers infringements of other copyright material, including music and films. Civil and criminal prosecutions can be brought against suspected businesses and individual executives.
Anti-piracy campaigners have welcomed the new law. Paul Brennan, general counsel of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), a UK non-profit lobbying group, says: “This action reinforces everything that we stand for. It is the equivalent of a big stick with which to confront organisations that flout copyright law. It demonstrates that illegal software is a criminal issue and an offence that will not be tolerated.”
Brennan also suggests that stiffer penalties may also encourage the authorities to bring about more prosecutions. “About one quarter of software used [in UK organisations] has not been accounted for,” he claims. Many companies are aware of what is going on, he adds, but tend to “turn a blind eye to the problem”. Government figures estimate that ‘intellectual property crime’ costs the UK economy some £9 billion ($14.3bn) a year and holds such crime responsible for the loss of more than 4,000 jobs annually.