More than half of UK small businesses have used illegal software

The BSA research, carried out by Vanson Bourne, polled decision makers with responsibility for purchasing software in 250 small businesses in the UK.

For a sizeable proportion of these businesses, the way they bought or downloaded illegal software appeared to be pre-meditated. More than one in five admitted to using a software key generator for business purposes – a small programme that will generate an unauthorised but working registration key or serial number for a piece of software. It is typically used to create an illegal version of a software application.

And 70 per cent of those who have purchased OEM software not accompanied by the hardware did so more than once. The same applies to repeat downloads of normally-paid-for-software for free from torrent sites and warez sites, as well as normally paid-for software for free from other sites.

For others, the buying and downloading of illegal software appeared to be accidental. A significant amount took action to remedy the situation once they discovered they’d been duped into buying fraudulent software.

More than half of small businesses replaced the software with a legitimate copy whilst 10 per cent uninstalled the software and did not replace it. However, these actions suggest that in many cases these businesses had to pay twice; making illegal software a false economy; particularly for those downloading illegal software multiple times.

Michala Wardell, UK committee chair of BSA | The Software Alliance, comments: “The practice of downloading illegal software amongst small businesses is clearly widespread. The research suggests that a large number of UK businesses have an unclear understanding of what constitutes illegal software use, at best; and a blatant disrespect for copyright law and business ethics, at worse. It’s encouraging to see that many of these businesses have taken action to address the error, often at their own expense. But to avoid undue costs and security risks, businesses need to be more vigilant about where they buy their software from in the future. As things stand, too many small businesses are exposing themselves to unnecessary hazards.”

The study reveals an irresponsible attitude to software management. Fifty four per cent of small businesses don’t have procurement records for all of the software their organisation uses. And yet the average cost for software is approximately £17,000 per business, to perform vital tasks.

Handley Brustad, Trading Standards Institute Joint Lead Officer Intellectual Property said: “The BSA research confirms our suspicions that while some small businesses are knowingly and opportunistically downloading illegal goods, a significant proportion of companies are being fooled into buying illegal software. It’s easy to assume that if a website is easily searchable online, the software is genuine. In many cases, it might seem easier to just press download, than ask too many questions. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. Small businesses are leaving themselves open to security threats, liability claims and more. While we strive to bring down dishonest traders, we rely upon businesses to take proper precautions when purchasing their software. “