Intellectual property theft, including selling counterfeit software and hardware, is supporting more serious crimes such as drug trafficking and terrorism.
That is the claim made by a specially formed action group, the Alliance Against Counterfeiting and Piracy (AACP), of which the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is a member.
A study by the AACP, Proving the Connection, stated: "Intellectual property crime is taking place on a vast scale globally.
"Many serious and organised criminals are involved, either in the manufacture of counterfeit products or in their distribution, attracted by the high profits, the low risk of detection and the fact that penalties are rarely more than minimal."
Mark Floisand, chairman of the BSA, said: "Most customers don't realise that software piracy supports organised crime.
"It is often very difficult, especially for small resellers and system builders which can't afford lengthy vendor accreditation processes. Some are tempted to supply cheaper and often illegal products to retain customers."
More than a quarter of software in the UK is pirated, and enforcement agencies hope to create an umbrella group to crack down on crime.
Phil Lewis, a representative from the Patent Office, told CRN that a national body to fight piracy could be set up in six months.
"We are looking to resurrect the Counterfeit and Piracy Forum created two years ago. We are working on a national strategy with a cross-platform industry approach," he said.
CAUGHT IN THE NET
- VAR ICM Computer Group was forced to revise its interim profits for the year to 30 June 2003 after becoming unwittingly caught up in a major piracy ring.
Its software supplier, ASI, went into receivership in October 2002, leaving ICM liable for £700,000 to replace customers' counterfeit packages.
The firm stated that it has already paid £400,000 to Microsoft; the remaining £300,000 is being held pending the outcome of an investigation into other affected customers.
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