Anti-piracy tactics backfiring

Businesses claim that heavy-handed tactics to expose unlicensed use of software, including offering rewards and incentives to inform on offenders, will do nothing to change behaviour.

Software piracy pressure groups may be shooting themselves in the foot with new tactics like paying whistleblowers to expose law breakers, says a leading UK business manager.

With the news this week that the US arm of the Business Software Alliance is paying up to $1 million for inside information on corporate users of illegal software, the software piracy lobby appears to be dramatically raising the stakes.

"Reporting software piracy is the right thing to do, and the BSA is pleased to reward individuals who come forward with credible information," said Jenny Blank, the BSA's director of enforcement in the US. She explained that paying tipsters was an ongoing policy, but that payments would experimentally be raised to around five times current limits between July and October this year. She warned also that corporate infringement can carry up to $150,000 in fines.

But a culture of too much stick and not enough carrot is ultimately set to fail, warns Ian Benn, managing director of UK banking payments specialist Fidelity National Information Services.

"The only way to change behaviour is to appeal to personal moral standards," he said. "If you look at the way attitudes to drink driving changed in the late 70s, it wasn't fear of punishment or risk of being shopped by one's mates, but an understanding of the terrible consequences through sustained and effective advertising. Software theft is theft - but people will only care if they see the consequences rather than the punishment as serious."

Benn says he would not support large payments to whistleblowers being tried out in Europe. The BSA's UK office was unavailable for commenting on whether such a move is likely in the near future.

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