Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 01/86 - scanned

WELL, WOULD YOU SPIT ON AN OMNIBUS? (column)

Tell me, have you ever acquired an undocumented copy of a published program then used it to provide a service to other companies? Is it still on your disk? Do you use it yourself or allow others to use it? Has the publisher received payment from you?

Three yesses and a no make you a thief and liable to prosecution. I recommend that you either buy the package or come to some legitimate arrangement with the official supplier. If you don't use the product then there is little point in keeping it and you may as well erase it for your own peace of mind.

1986 is the year when we're going to see a great deal of positive action against software theft. The signs are visible already. IBM has taken action against the Singapore supplier and UK importer of counterfeit products. Lotus and MicroPro are considering taking action in the same context. The Federation Against Software Theft, FAST, has at least two actions on the go: one against a dealer who mastered over 250 games to disk, another against an employee who copied software legitimately bought by his company. Dick Pick is suing a company which allegedly used the Pick source code to build its own product. And Systems Union is tackling Simdell because there are too many similarities between their respective accounting packages.

MicroPro has an amnesty in force which isn't simply a way of getting easy money out of the estimated five million WordStar pirates. No, it's the prelude to legal action. Once the amnesty period expires, MicroPro will take action against companies and individuals discovered still using its products illegally. It would be a pity if MicroPro were the only software publisher prepared to take such visible action.

The more publishers that act, the quicker the piracy problem will disappear. I shouldn't need to explain the benefits of a successful cleanup campaign. The volume of software sales will increase and the decent dealers will no longer lose sales to those prepared to provide illicit copies at low, or no, cost, in order to secure hardware orders. Publishers will no longer be cheated of their entire income by producers of counterfeit products, complete with documentation.

Before we reach this happy state of affairs, we need to take a lot of well-publicised legal action. First, each of us must decide which side of the fence we're on. There can be no half measures. You are either a software thief or a law-abiding person. Please don't read on until you've made your decision.

If you've decided to be a lawbreaker then I hope you get caught and put out of business. If you're straight then you need to know what action you can take to help clean up the industry.

The answer is surprisingly simple: you contact FAST with any suspicion of software piracy. FAST regards confidentiality as paramount and it will secure the evidence necessary to support a prosecution. You are left completely free to run your business. Bob Hay at FAST is even prepared to check out anonymous information. The FAST telephone number is 01430 2408.

I hear that MicroScope is thinking of offering Bob a notice-board in the paper so he can do a sort of Police Five on you each week. Now it's all very well to rely on you to point the finger, but I think we need to get that vast computer-using public in on the act too. At least you have the benefit of potentially increasing your volume of business by acting on piracy. The average user has nothing to gain, so perhaps an inducement is required.

A reward system such as that used by banks and insurance companies could be an answer. Rewards are often given for information provided which leads to successful prosecution and conviction of offenders. Individual software companies might like to consider this approach. The idea of individuals 'shopping' their employers or, more likely, their ex-employers in return for a reward should appeal greatly to the non-computing media. In this way the message will spread that we mean business.

We will all be able to maximise our income when the public at large finally regards software theft as offensive as, say, spitting in a bus.