From Soho House to City, There Is No Excuse to Use Illegal Software; ANALYSIS

Article excerpt

Byline: Gideon Spanier

SOHO House prides itself on being a favourite of the media set, popular with everyone from chief executives to editors, TV producers to public relations bosses. So the Greek Street club -- now the hub of a [pounds sterling]100 million-plus empire, with offshoots in Shoreditch, Notting Hill, Chiswick and around the world -- must be mortified. Soho House Group stands accused of using illegal software in its head office in contravention of one of the media industry's most cherished concepts, copyright law.

The Evening Standard can reveal that Soho House, owned by founder Nick Jones and Richard Caring, has just paid an undisclosed sum for "alleged underlicensing of Microsoft software" to the British Software Alliance, a not-forprofit anti-piracy organisation representing almost 80 firms.

It's a case that illustrates how the computer industry is taking a "zero tolerance" approach to illegal use of software by businesses -- particularly in London, which has the highest incidence of piracy in the UK -- even when a company insists it made an unintentional oversight or blunder.

A spokesman for Soho House said: "Earlier this year, we were notified by the BSA that we may be under-licensed for Microsoft Office. Of the 250 Microsoft Office licences we had purchased a decade ago, 13 could not be located physically, lost, we believe, in an office move that took place at the end of 2008. As such we resolved the shortfall immediately with the BSA. We never copy any software and run regular checks on all our systems to ensure they are clear of any unauthorised software."

The Soho House case, which is thought to involve a four-figure sum, demonstrates how the onus is on businesses to prove they have bought their software legitimately.

Problems sometimes occur when a company might buy software from a high street store and the purchaser's details are not passed on to the manufacturer. So a receipt, perhaps dating back many years, is often the only evidence that it was legally obtained.

Ignorance or poor book-keeping is no excuse in the eyes of the law.

In cases where there is strong evidence of deliberately using illegal software, fines can run into six-figures sums -- and criminal prosecution could follow. The BSA, one of a number of umbrella trade bodies that enforce copyright law on behalf of members, says its biggest recent settlement in the UK was [pounds sterling]250,000 in 2007. Last year, it carried out 294 legal actions in the UK. Fines vary dramatically depending on the scale of the offence and the length of time the software has been used on machines.

The BSA does not have the resources to check up on everyone. It has two main methods for cracking down on illegal software: receiving tip-offs from whistleblowers and asking firms to self-audit. …