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The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) is about to take action against a number of companies in the UK that have been caught making illegal copies of software available for download from their networks – which may come as a complete surprise to the companies.

The federation isn't naming the companies yet. Director general John Lovelock told OUT-LAW today that a plan of attack is being finalised, but Lovelock expects the companies to be named and shamed in due course. "This isn't about the money," he says. "It's about the principle of stopping IP theft."

For now, he isn't giving much else away. He said some of the company names may be familiar, and one of them has a turnover in excess of £150m. But the companies themselves have not been approached yet and Lovelock even declined to identify the software titles that FAST's investigators found on peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa.

While the legal strategy is honed, FAST is pursuing what Lovelock describes as "the low hanging fruit": 145 individuals who also uploaded software for anyone else to download. Their IP addresses were traced by forensic investigators, working covertly for the federation. Their names, addresses and dates of birth were subsequently disclosed by their ISPs (including Tiscali, BT, Telewest and NTL) following a court order obtained by the federation in January.

A letter was sent to each of the individuals at the start of last week. In it, FAST tells the individual that he has been caught. It demands payment of a sum representing a notional licence fee and a contribution towards the costs of the investigation. An undertaking must also be signed, in effect, a promise to behave.

Ignoring the letter is likely to result in action, according to Lovelock. But the amounts being demanded are modest: a few hundred pounds in each case, and the suspects have begun paying up. "We've had about a dozen cheques already," he said.

However, Lovelock stressed that individuals are not FAST's biggest concern. "We want to focus on corporates," he said. "This action will resonate with businesses."

He acknowledged that their infringements might be unwitting. He suggested a hypothetical example of a company security guard who puts Kazaa on an office PC to get access to free software for personal use. "The employer won't want this publicity," he said. "But, it's the easiest thing for the employer to check if unauthorised software is on the company network."

"If you're a director, go check what controls you have in place," he continued. "Use a discovery agent to find out if there's anything on your network that shouldn't be there."

When FAST began collecting the IP addresses of suspected infringers, it did not know whether they belonged to individuals or organisations. It transpired that several out of a collection of 150 addresses belonged to companies. But this was only phase one of what FAST is calling Operation Tracker. Phase two is about to begin, and businesses are the only target.

"We're widening the net in phase two," Lovelock said. "Individual users will fall through and next time we expect to be taking action against businesses that are illegally uploading software."

He explained that FAST has been through a learning curve in phase one. "We've learned that companies can be traced without the need for a court order," he said. This is easily done via a lookup on the internet.

FAST has big plans for the future. It has entered into a strategic alliance with Korea's Software Property-right Council (SPC) and the Association of Copyright for Computer Software (ACCS) in Japan and China.

"These associations will draw together a global network of enforcement agencies, working together for the greater good of the software industry," said Lovelock.

See: FAST

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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