Software theft go whistle for it

The latest research from the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) revisits the issues raised in its initial report one year on and finds the majority of UK's workforce still has no idea that legislation exists to protect them should they do the right thing.
The research, conducted across 100 companies, found that only 62% of employees knew of the existing whistleblowing legislation as opposed to 69% in the 2011 survey.

Over three quarters questioned stated that their employer doesn't even have a policy on illegally used software, nor do they seem to care. 68% surveyed wouldn't report it even if they were aware of software theft in their workplace. One third cited even if they were aware, they would turn a blind eye to protect their jobs.
Of the one third that would report malpractice, the majority of that percentage would do so as they believed in good practice and supported the legislation.
Key findings include:

  • 62 per cent of workers are unaware of the law that protects whistle blowers.
  • A staggering 68 per cent would not report their employer if they were using illegal software.
  • Of this sample 32 per cent stated that they would not report illicit use to protect their jobs; only 13 per cent would do so because they did not wish to be seen as a whistle blower and amazingly, 54 per cent simply did not care.
  • Of the 32 per cent who would report misuse nearly half of them cited their belief in 'good practice' as the reason they made a report, while a further 23 per cent felt it was correct to stay within the law.

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel at FAST, commented: "This survey betrays a worrying lack of appreciation on the importance of software and its correct licensing, a picture that hasn't much improved since last year. This general ignorance, wilful or otherwise, fails to fully understand the value of digital product.
"Employers and employees alike need to take action to ensure that they are properly educated about the correct licensing of software and the repercussions that software abuse can bring. It's incumbent upon employers to take the steps needed to ensure that they are on the right side of the law. Failure to do so may mean costs and disruption of emergency compliance measures or a prosecution."
Robin Fry, Partner at DAC Beachcroft and member of FAST's Legal Advisory Group (FLAG), added: "Using business software for more people or servers than licensed is treated the same as using pirated or counterfeit software - both are infringements and both can be criminal offences. Disclosure of such misuse is therefore protected by UK's whistleblowing laws whether made by those in employment, agency workers or by ex-employees. Any business deploying unlicensed software (and any director turning a blind eye to such usage) is highly exposed.''
Julian Heathcote Hobbins concludes: "Mixed feelings about whistleblowing are understandable, but not doing so may be counterintuitive. Serious compensation can be payable if your employer acts illegally when a protected disclosure is made. So if you think that software piracy is taking place in your office, then get in touch, but be sure of the facts. Reports can be made anonymously. Notwithstanding the law is there to protect you, the bigger picture is, respect for someone else's creativity. The general apathy that exists about software theft fails to properly recognise its effect on the wider economy and future job creation. It's important that, as an industry, we take the steps necessary to ensure that the value of digital product is protected and innovation supported.
To be protected as a whistleblower you need to make a 'qualifying disclosure' about malpractice. This could be a disclosure about:

  • criminal offences
  • failure to comply with a legal obligation
  • miscarriages of justice
  • threats to an individual's health and safety
  • damage to the environment
  • a deliberate attempt to cover up any of the above

If you would like to make a report to FAST about an organisation using unlicensed software please use the form at the link below. Please complete as much as you can. Your contact details are important to allow FAST investigators to contact you should further information be required. Should you have any queries, e-mail or make a report online at

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