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South African companies have been offered a 90-day window of opportunity to review their software and acquire the necessary licences to operate programmes legally without facing penalties.
The announcement was made in Johannesburg by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which is supported by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
BSA launched a truce on software piracy, starting on February 1.
BSA chairman Andrew Lindstrom said: "Companies have the golden opportunity to become legal, penalty-free, before they are reported to the BSA.
"After the truce, it's business as usual - companies will face serious penalties for software violations, which can be avoided by becoming legal now."
According to the eighth annual Global Software Piracy study, South Africa's piracy rate is estimated at 34 percent.
"More than one in three software programmes being used are pirated, indicating that a number of businesses simply are not paying attention to whether they have enough licences to cover their software usage," he said.
The BSA, the voice of the world's commercial software industry, has been making end-users aware of software copyright and anti-piracy through education, policy and enforcement.
The DTI's director of commercial investigation, Lana van Zyl, said that if software piracy in South Africa declined by 10 percent in the next four years, the economy could benefit by a R12,8-billion boost and nearly 3 300 new high-wage jobs could be created.
"Additionally, R784-million in tax revenues will be gained by 2006."
Successful applicants will have to provide the BSA with proof of legalisation before April 30.
During 2003, the BSA joined with with KPMG to form the Anti-Piracy Agent task team and visited over 5000 companies.
According to Lindstrom, 71% of the companies visited viewed software as an asset.
But only 45% of these companies have software asset management policies in place.
"We encourage the adoption of software asset management policies so that companies can effectively manage their software assets."
Lindstrom said South Africa's software piracy rate was 34% in 2002, 4% down from 2001.
The piracy rate in Africa in 2002 was 48%, 6% down from 2001.
The worst offenders were Zimbabwe with 70%, Nigeria with 67% and Kenya with 67%.
He said that over the past three years the BSA had collected more than R3-million in settlements, with the largest settlement from the SA Post Office handing over a once-off sum of R711 393.
The BSA will reach out to business through a targeted direct mail campaign, education through print and TV advertisements and a national campaign.
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