Most British businesses are prepared to use unlicensed software in a bid to reduce costs, despite the risk of being prosecuted for fraud, according to a survey of directors.

The survey by the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) claims that 79 per cent of company directors would be happy to avoid buying software licences in order to support their company’s balance sheet during the current tough economic climate.

Four in five respondents said it was “very easy” to obtain illegal software. Some 32 per cent said they could download illegal software from the internet, 11 per cent said they would use online auction sites, and 14 per cent cited car boot sales.

The penalty for committing this type of fraud is up to 10 years in jail and an unlimited fine, the federation said.

John Lovelock, chief executive at FAST, said it was a “worrying trend” that companies were so desperate to cut costs that they would risk breaking the law.

“By far and away the most effective way of reducing your software costs is to introduce a software asset management programme to highlight unused software in the system,” he added.

Many of the same people who said they would break the law also expressed disappointment at regulators. Some 81 per cent said they felt the government could not tackle software pirates.

FAST announced a pilot being launched this summer that could lead to local trading compliance authority Cardiff Trading Standards being given new powers to clamp down on software piracy.

Cardiff Trading Standards is joining forces with FAST to educate businesses about the legal implications of Section 107A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The Act holds that any business, which unlawfully installs software for business use, is potentially at risk of a criminal investigation by Trading Standards.

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