The world's largest software firms are to target British architectural practices in a fresh crackdown on piracy and the unlicensed use of programs.
The global Business Software Alliance (BSA) is 'furious' with the profession after it found a third of the unlicensed software cases it settled legally last year were with either architects or construction designers.
In response, the BSA has hiked its reward for informants to £10,000 in an effort to convince more employees of architecture firms to come forward with information on practices using CAD design packages without the relevant licence.
BSA Northern Europe regional director Siobhan Carroll told the AJ that her members - including global software giants such as Microsoft and all major CAD programmers - are 'extremely frustrated' that they are getting 'so little cooperation from architects'.
'It is an astonishing irony that a profession that relies so heavily on the concept of intellectual copyright clearly has so little respect for others who are equally dependent, ' she said. 'We have no option but to target disgruntled employees and encourage them to tell us what is going on, 'Carroll added.
'Obviously we would rather informants came forward out of a moral obligation, but we are quite willing to pay.'
However, Carroll said the problem was unrelated to criminal tendencies. 'We do understand that many of the firms we uncover have either forgotten to update their licences or are ignorant of what needs to be done, ' she said. 'So we will also be investing in an education programme, telling architects when they should reapply for licences to use our software, ' Carroll added.
RIBA vice president for practice Richard Saxon welcomed the BSA's plans to focus on architects, describing the figures for last year as shocking. 'We need to reinforce the message that there is no excuse for having failed to make sure all software licences are up-to-date, ' he said.
Saxon warned that being caught out by the BSA would be enough to send many small practices under. 'The cost, in both financial and reputation terms, could be too big for many small practices to handle, ' he added.
One practice successfully tracked down by the BSA in 2002 was Sevenoaks-based Barrett Haskins Design. Managing director Barry Walker said the investigation came as a 'bolt from the blue'.
Walker said that the firm had been exposed after a former employee went to the BSA after he was sacked for stealing.
'We had absolutely no idea that we were negligent, ' he said. 'We had forgotten to upgrade some of our licences and obviously we set about changing this immediately.
'We settled out of court for a reasonable cash deal, ' Walker added. 'I can see why the BSA does this, and I would urge other practices to watch out.'