More than one-third of business software used by companies around the world is pirated.

According to figures released by the Business Software Alliance 35% of the programs used by firms are illegal- a figure unchanged since 2003.

Despite this, the piracy watchdog said some nations, such as China, had made big inroads into the amount of illegal software companies were using.

The BSA said governments had to do more to get firms using licenced software.

Tax break

The static rates of piracy in the US (22%) and Western Europe (36%) stood in stark contrast to the declining rates in other countries, said Julie Strawson, vice-chair of the BSA in the UK.

In only three years, she said, piracy rates in China had declined from 92% to 82%.

"That's got a lot to do with government intervention," she said. A commitment from the Chinese government to only use licenced software itself and tougher regulations to make companies buy licences had helped to bring about the reduction, said Ms Strawson.

"Governments can help a lot because as soon as they put it on their agenda, businesses do too."

Tougher action by governments in richer nations could help break the deadlock that saw a minority of firms continue to use illegal software, she said.

Ms Strawson singled out the UK as one of the places where a hard core of companies, 27%, were still using unlicenced software. Many pirates, she said, were unaware of the risks of using unlicenced software. For instance, said Ms Strawson, getting software from illegal sources could leave firms at risk of being infected by a virus.

"I'm sure most companies out there do not mean to operate illegally," she said.

As well as tougher laws, governments could reward firms that had licences for all the software they used, she said. Corporate tax breaks could help drive piracy rates below current rates.

Ms Strawson said hi-tech firms were also working to make software harder to pirate.

But, she said, the industry could only go so far to lock down its products before interoperability suffered.

"The last thing users want is software that is less stable," she said.


Asia - 55%
Central Europe - 68%
Latin America - 66%
Middle East/Africa - 60%
North America - 22%
Western Europe - 36%