Firms air fed piracy complaints

An industry group asserted that federal agencies are stealing software and this month asked congressional leaders to help stop the theft.

The Software Publishers Association (SPA) testifying before the House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property on Sept. 11 called for a congressional resolution and a presidential executive order to keep federal employees from stealing software whether it involves an employee copying software at work to use at home or an office administrator buying a single-license copy of a software program and installing it on numerous PCs.

The SPA estimates that piracy - or unauthorized duplication - of copyrighted business software programs cost the worldwide software industry $11 billion in lost revenues in 1996 with more than $2 billion taking place in the United States. According to the SPA the federal government is the largest purchaser of software in the world and therefore a prime candidate for unauthorized use of software.

"Our government must lead by example " SPA vice president Sandra A. Sellers told the subcommittee. "We ask for your reinforcement by issuing a House resolution" to stop the piracy.

Fighting software piracy is "certainly something that the federal government should lead the way in " said Ed Morin manager of Novell Inc.'s anti-piracy program. "It stems from the highest level of government all the way down."

Sellers said after the hearing that the resolution should call for a mandate from the top levels of the federal government which could help cut through the red tape that agencies can encounter when assigning employees to monitor software use.

For example the SPA last year claimed Labor Department employees were using unauthorized copies of software such as After Dark a screen-saver software package PC Tools WordPerfect and Norton Utilities. After continued pressure from the SPA the department agreed to conduct an audit but creating a position of software coordinator was a special challenge for Labor because the agency had to work its way through a number of bureaucratic hoops before it could assign someone the job.

Sellers could not estimate how widespread software piracy is in the federal government other than to point to a 4-year-old Defense Department report that found half of the 1 000 computers the DOD inspector general's office sampled in the department had unauthorized software installed. The report estimated the value of unauthorized software copies found on the inspected computers was near $227 000.

Since then DOD has not updated its policy directive that would address software piracy within the agency as well as a number of other information technology issues according to officials at DOD's Office of the Inspector General.

Jerry Dingess deputy director for audit follow-ups at DOD's IG office said the department's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command Control Communications and Intelligence (OASD C3I) is expected to have the directive revised by the end of next month.

"Despite the fact [that the directive has not been revised] I am confident there are other measures taken by the department to address misuse of software " Dingess said.

No one in the federal government knows just how widespread software piracy is across agencies. Kevin Di Gregory the deputy assistant attorney general said he was unaware of any governmentwide effort to track software copyright infringement. Rebecca Ranninger director of legal affairs for Symantec Corp. maker of Norton Utilities said "We really can't tell" how rampant computer piracy is in the federal government. I can say that computer privacy generally is quite rampant."

Blaine Merritt subcommittee counsel said there is a good chance the subcommittee may pursue a congressional resolution that would call on agencies to adopt software management plans addressing copyright issues. But he said subcommittee staffers will seek input from software companies before moving ahead with a resolution.

"We want to make sure exactly whether there's much more of a preference for a resolution as opposed to a [General Accounting Office] study " Merritt said.

A move to fight piracy also has come from Vice President Al Gore's office. In a speech at the SPA's annual conference Sept. 9 Gore said he would challenge agency chief information officers to police software use. "I am charging our council of [CIOs] to develop uniform federal policies for checking software policies and responding appropriately to any illegal software " Gore said. "I will direct them to work closely with the SPA so that the government adopts the very best commercial practices."

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