Despite increasingly draconian measures by vendors to penalise software pirates, the latest figures from industry watchdog the Business Software Alliance (BSA) reveal piracy is on the up.
The number of cases settled by the BSA last year was 17 per cent higher than in 2001, which shows that the use of illegal software is still rampant in the industry.
Seventy-five UK firms agreed to pay compensation for unlicensed software use in 2002, compared with 64 in 2001.
One of the fastest-growing problems is internet piracy and the increased use of peer-to-peer (P2P) networking to download illegal software files.
The BSA told CRN that it is running a global 24-hour internet enforcement programme.
Siobhan Carroll, BSA's regional manager for northern Europe, said: "Via a web-crawler system and the involvement of internet investigators we not only address P2P networks, but target newsgroups, email, FTP and auction sites.
"The BSA recognises the size of the problem and does not attempt to battle internet piracy alone. We seek support from third parties, such as ISPs and the UK Hi-Tech Crime Unit."
Deanna Slocum, senior manager for anti-piracy EMEA at web software vendor Macromedia, said: "Piracy is no longer just about disk swapping; it is about the internet.
"We work closely with the BSA to educate people about the dangers of not buying from local resellers or trusted channel members."
Slocum said internet piracy will continue to spiral because of the growing adoption of broadband and use of P2P networks.
"Because software available via the net is intangible, people don't think of it as stealing. But it is still intellectual property that firms have invested in," she said.
Julia Phillpot, licence compliance and channel enforcement group manager at Microsoft, said internet piracy is a continuing problem for the vendor.
"We are concerned about unsuspecting customers because downloading illegal products leaves them exposed," she said. "VARs buying off the web should also be careful to ensure they use legitimate traders."
End-users have also recognised the problem. Chris Turner, IT manager at end-user Broadchart, said: "We are in the P2P age, and current laws seem to allow this blatant theft to continue. As with the music industry, it seems to be a losing battle."
But observers have said that, if vendors continue to complicate and ramp up licence prices, more firms will be tempted to switch to open-source software.
Mark de Visser, vice-president of marketing at Linux distributor Red Hat, said: "Because versions of Linux are available for free downloading from the net, piracy is not a problem we suffer from.
"Proprietary vendors have to get the balance right between being hard on pirates and being fair to loyal customers who, if pushed too hard, could be persuaded to switch to Linux."
Security firm set to become part of acquisitive Shearwater Group
Distributor merges three northern sites into one new hub in Warrington
Activist investor puts forward five director candidates as turmoil continues at security giant
Nima Green asks what is driving public cloud uptake in Germany