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Antipiracy team scans Asia P2P sites

A U.S.-based software antipiracy group begins targeting Asia-Pacific Web sites and users of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, looking for illegal software trade.

A U.S.-based software antipiracy group has begun to target Asia-Pacific Web sites and users of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, looking for those who trade in illegal software.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include large companies such as Adobe and Microsoft, has recently aimed its software-sniffing Web crawler specifically at Asia-Pacific sites, according to a BSA representative.

The action was prompted by the high rates of Internet-based piracy in the region, which is beginning to rival more traditional methods such as illegal discs, said Jeffrey Hardee, BSA regional director, Asia-Pacific.

"P2P is one the biggest problems we have in Asia-Pacific," he said. Hardee expects the crawler to turn up thousands of infringing Web sites every month.

So far, software-swapping Web sites have been found in Singapore, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Japan and China, he said.

Many of these Web sites discovered by the crawler have been shut down by the Internet service providers (ISPs) still hosting them after being served with a legal letter called a "notice of take-down" by the BSA.

So far, most ISPs have readily complied, said Hardee.

"It's a relationship that needs to work in order for use to bring down the levels of piracy on the Internet. A few have not taken action, but that's more the exception and not the rule," he said.

Though the BSA was not behind the recent arrest of students in Sydney, Australia, who were sharing music files, he did not rule out police action against those who share software on the Internet "if governments decide to enforce legislation," he said.

While many Web sites with illegal software have been taken down, the question of what to do about illegal software on P2P networks such as Kazaa remains open, as the machines serving the illegal files are people's own PCs, rather than ISP-hosted computers.

Sharman Networks, the parent of Kazaa, is currently being sued by recording companies and Hollywood studios for aiding copyright infringement. Executives of the studios have said that they can identify the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of individual users of P2P clients.

According to the BSA, the average piracy rate for commercial software across Asia-Pacific is at its highest level since 1996, with dollar losses in the region last year at a record high of $5.5 billion.

The average software piracy rate in Asia-Pacific rose for the third year in a row, and stood at 55 percent in 2002.

In 1994, Asia-Pacific's piracy level was 68 percent, and by 1999, the rate had dropped to 47 percent. However, with more people in China becoming computer literate and demand for pirated software rocketing, the rate climbed again the following year, to today's record level.

CNETAsia's John Lui reported from Singapore.