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Anti-piracy czars slammed for bully-boy tactics

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The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has been hauled over the coals by UK advertising regulators for intimidating companies indiscriminately. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry objected to a mail-shot follow-up letter which warned IT professionals about the costs of software piracy. The complaint, upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), claimed that the letter misleadingly implied that it was official and that recipients were legally obliged to respond. The BSA letter stated: "This is a formal notification that we have not yet received your reply to our recorded letter of November 5...It is important that we receive your information by return, so that we can prevent your company’s details from automatically entering BSA Software Watch – a database of companies that we are concerned may be at risk of software mismanagement. "Penalties for ignoring copyright law are real – as the enclosed press clippings show." Designed to scare It urged companies to return the duplicate software declaration form enclosed in the letter within seven days. Company officers were responsible for ensuring that their staff were abiding by software laws "and face the risk of imprisonment if their company breaks the law", it stated. The ASA said the phrase "formal notification" implied it was an official letter. In addition, it said: "in the absence of evidence that the targeted companies were benefiting from illegal software, the letter did not warrant this tone of fear". The BSA, which has its UK base in Knightsbridge, London, admitted the letter was designed to appeal to fear. This was because it considered software piracy an extremely serious issue, according to this month’s ASA report. The BSA even tried to supply information that showed the economic implications of software piracy and the tone of the letter was not disproportionate to the risk of using illegal software. The Authority was not convinced, and asked the BSA to change the letter. In an interview with The RegisterMike Newton, campaign relations manager at the BSA, maintained the organisation was justified to send out the letters. "This is a major issue. Up to 50 per cent of software in small businesses is illegal, we believe," he said. "This was a pretty upfront campaign. When we send people polite requests they ignore them." Newton said the BSA would not apologise for striking fear into the heart of the IT industry. "We were driving people to take action. It wasn’t fear, it was concern," he said. ®

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