Controversial paid informants programme helps curb software piracy, says Czech BSA

Photo: Grant Cochrane,

Software piracy levels in the Czech Republic decreased slightly in 2013, according to a freshly released study by BSA, an anti-piracy group representing several global software firms. The study says that 34 percent of computer programmes in the country were used without licences last year, down from 35 percent in 2012. BSA’s methods of calculating the rate have been disputed, and the group has also been criticized for paying informants to report the use of illegal software in their companies. But BSA says the controversial programme has borne fruit. I sat down with the spokesman of the group’s Czech branch, Jan Hlaváč, and asked him what he thought the main reasons behind the decline were.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“It is mainly due to decreasing levels of pirated software in companies. We’ve been fighting against illegal software for more than 10 years in the Czech Republic, and in the past, it was usually firms that used unlicensed software in large volumes.

“But that’s changed dramatically over the years, and it continues to decrease. As for households, that’s a slightly different situation because the number of home computer users is still growing. Buying a computer and internet connection is easy and cheap, and many users get software from illegal sources. So while in the corporate sector, the rate is decreasing, it goes up in households.”

Photo: Baitong333,
So what has made companies stop using illegal software?

“There is a legal threat – investigation, and some serious cases can even end in jail sentences. But more often, it’s the overall stress that comes with the investigation and possible court.

“Then there is the actual compensation because the affected software vendors can claim double the value of the seized unlicensed software.”

How often do users of unlicensed software get found out in the Czech Republic?

“Every year, we receive hundreds of tips from our informants about companies that use unlicensed software. In many cases, we manage to reach out-of-court settlement but some cases end up in court.

Photo: sakhorn38,
“For instance last year, there was a case involving a distributor of unlicensed software who was in the end sentenced to almost two years in prison, and the person also had to pay damages.”

Your programme, which offers money to people who provide information on their employers’ using illegal software, caused a controversy when it was launched last year. Some people questioned the ethics of prompting people to snitch, in a country with plenty of experience of snitching to the police. But you are saying that despite these concerns, is has been successful.

Photo: Grant Cochrane,
“Very successful. We did it because we wanted to catch big fish. In the past, many informants did not want to disclose who they were, and it was difficult to set up serious communication with them.

“The only way out of this was to offer them something that would motivate them to fully cooperate. That’s why we decided to launch this programme, to reward information that leads not only to identifying illegal software but to bringing the whole case to the end.”

“So it’s worked well. The quality of leads has greatly improved, and at the moment, we have in the pipeline cases worth around 10 million crowns.”

How many of these tips have you received so far?

“Each month, we regularly get about 30 but some of them are irrelevant or the informants don’t comply with the conditions of the cooperation.”

Has this programme has also contributed to the slight decrease in the use of illegal software, as the BSA report suggests?

“Definitely. The programme has helped a great deal convince companies that the legal risks are not worth it. And it’s not just legal risks, it’s the total cost to business.

“Also, another thing that has helped bring the rate down is the fact that businesses now have legal responsibility for their actions. That’s something fairly new; in the past, only individuals could be prosecuted for software piracy, not companies as such.

Jan Hlaváč,  photo: ČT24
“But two years ago, I think, legislation was passed that introduced legal responsibility of business entities so now, in flagrant cases of piracy, the company can even be closed down.”

Does the Czech Republic differ in any way as for the types of software typically used without licences?

“It’s very similar to other countries. Unlicensed software is usually that of popular vendors, often global companies. It’s basically the same as elsewhere. There are naturally some local software companies as well but I don’t have information about how they are affected.”

When we again look at the decreasing rate of illegal software use in the Czech Republic, it is still higher than the European average of 41 percent. But it is far lower than in other post-communist countries with perhaps the exception of Slovakia. Why do you think that is?

“Because the anti-piracy programme in the Czech Republic has been historically very strong. Many key software vendors have invested into education, especially in the business sector.”

“We have also done several campaigns; we were often criticized for them, they worked and helped spread the message to companies and make them think about piracy; they legalized their software and now stick to licencing.”