Software piracy is costing the Australian economy up to $1 billion a year, according to the Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA) chairman Jim Macnamara.
Macnamara said he believed 33 per cent of all PC software in Australia was pirated.
He said the privately funded BSAA had recently completed litigation against Sydney forklift and trailer rental company Nomad Materials Handling. Nomad was found using unlicensed Microsoft Office, NT and SQL products to run its business, and was consequently fined a "significant" (undisclosed) sum, he said.
The company was made to swear in court that it would never again house unlicensed software, Macnamara said. Any breach of the vows made in court would lead to "contempt" charges, which were penalised more severely, he said.
Macnamara said current software piracy penalties in Australia acted as a sufficient deterrent to pirates, with courts threatening fines of up to $1 million and gaol sentences of up to five years. He said damages from software piracy charges seldom replaced the total cost of the compromised software and litigation fees.
Macnamara proposed that most individuals involved in small-scale software piracy were not ethically concerned about depriving large multinational software vendors, such as Microsoft, from relatively small profits. However, he pointed out that software distributors and resellers stood to lose significant business as a result of declining software sales.
"The most common piracy is happening inside the business," Macnamara said. "It ranges from the individual who makes one copy for a friend through to companies that have hundreds and hundreds of PCs and just run one or two programs right across."
"People treat software as though somehow it's exempt from all the other laws in our society. The copyright act is very clear. Company directors need to take note of it," he warned.