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Small and medium-sized firms are the worst offenders in Britain when it comes to using unlicensed software, according to the lBusiness Software Alliance.

The self-proclaimed software copyright watchdog points to its 2002/3 settlement figures which show nine out of ten UK companies that settled with it over illegal software use during the period had fewer than 200 employees. BSA blames this lamentable state of affairs on the fact that small firms often have no formal software policy or IT function to monitor and audit software deployment.

In addition BSA speculates that many firms, struggling to make ends meet during the recent downturn, have "turned a blind eye" to use of unlicensed software. It also identified the increasing availability of illegal software online as a major issue.

According to BSA's annual survey, conducted by the International Planning and Research Corporation, more than a quarter of business software in use during 2002 was illegal. The organisation said that, more worryingly, last year was the first time this figure has risen since the survey's inception seven years ago.

The most popular pirated software were products from Adobe, Autodesk, Macromedia, Microsoft and Symantec.

"SMEs often come unstuck in managing their software assets", said Mark Floisand, chairman of BSA.

"The pressure involved in setting up a business and maintaining growth often pushes software licensing down the list of priorities. Unfortunately it is only when businesses get caught that people listen up and address the problem of software piracy within their own organisation." ®

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