The illegal software channel could be far more damaging than the latest British Software Alliance (BSA) figures suggest, according to other official bodies responsible for reducing the problem.
These claims come in the wake of the biggest ever survey of the use of illegal software, the results of which have just been released by the BSA.
More than 20,000 SMEs were contacted as part of Operation Crackdown, specifically aimed at cutting piracy among small and medium-sized companies.
The BSA - which works closely with Microsoft to reduce levels of piracy - claims that nearly half of the estimated #200 million in annual lost revenue is attributable to SMEs and was pleased to report that 54 per cent of respondents proved they were using legal products.
Emilia Knight, vice president of BSA Europe, pointed to a recent increase in sales in the legitimate channel as evidence of the campaign's success and said: 'We are immensely encouraged by the SME community's positive reaction to Crackdown.'
But a closer examination of the statistics does not paint such a rosy picture. Of the companies contacted, 3,614 or 18 per cent completed and returned the questionnaire. Of these respondents, only 1,952, or just over half, said that their companies were operating legally. Therefore, from the original 20,000 SMEs, less than one in 10 confirmed that they were using legitimate products.
This figure was much closer to the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast) estimate: 'The only surprise we expressed about the survey is that well over 90 per cent of companies we come into contact with are found to be using copied software,' said Geoffrey Webster, chief executive at Fast.
He also agreed that those firms which did not reply to the survey were unlikely to be using totally legal systems. 'They are probably ducking the issue,' he said.
Keith Warburton, director of the PCA, said the investigation was 'heavy-handed' and had probably prevented more firms from responding. He said: 'I think the BSA will come up with a different tack for future campaigns.'
Knight disputed this and said: 'The message we are sending to businesses is this - there can be no excuse for using illegitimate software - and there will be no amnesty offered to anyone.'
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