In a street market in Warsaw, traders sell computers alongside vegetables. A recent police raid of its stalls netted 2,700 disks carrying pirated software from companies including Microsoft and Lotus. Six people were arrested.
The raid was only one of a series which in the past few weeks have tracked down vast quantities of illegally copied software, on sale and in use in cities across Europe.
In Milan, a week ago, police seized 10,000 floppy disks and charged the owners of eight computer shops. In Lisbon police found 300 pirate copies of programs in a high-street bank, and in Spain the air transport authority has been caught using suspect software on 37 of its computers.
The problem is now so widespread that publishers are warning that piracy will never be wiped out unless politicians, as well as police chiefs, make its eradication a top priority.
Latest figures on the use of illegal software show that during 1993, the industry lost $12.8bn (pounds 8.5bn) in 54 countries. Europe accounted for $4.9bn (pounds 3.3bn) of that loss. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), which enforces anti-piracy action internationally, said the UK has one of the lowest rates of software piracy in Europe.
Nevertheless, at 49 per cent of the market in 1993, this is still unacceptable, and could be brought down further if enforcers had more official support.
The BSA cites Italy as a model, indicating that strong government and police commitment to tracking down illegally copied programs can have dramatic results. In 1992, 86 per cent of Italy's software market was illegal. In early 1993 the country implemented new software protection laws and police involvement in raids and enforcement went up. Software companies saw their sales increase by 161 per cent over just one quarter and during 1993 the level of piracy had shrunk to 50 per cent.
"Losses through piracy are not just dollar losses but job losses, government revenue losses and very real losses to the ability of the British software sector to grow and thrive," said Evan Cox, legal counsel for the BSA in Europe. "If a small company is trying to get off the ground, piracy at the UK level means the company is only getting half the revenue it should from people using its programs. …