By Daniel Hunter

Trading Standards budget cuts will do little to help in the fight against software piracy, the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) warns today (Thursday).

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent economic research body, budgets for regulatory services, such as Trading Standards, in England have been slashed 32 per cent per person in real terms since 2009[1].

Expressing his concern, Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel at FAST, said: “The worry is that budget cuts, in the form that we have seen recently, will have a dramatic impact on the ability of Trading Standards officers up and down the country to do their jobs effectively, and there will inevitably be casualties on the enforcement side, with software IP offences sliding down the list of priorities.

"To complicate the picture further, funding for Trading Standards, which is for the most part managed by local authorities, varies throughout the country. The result may be something of a postcode lottery when it comes to enforcement. Software developers need certainty that they are being protected wherever software theft is occurring.

“The fight against software piracy takes place on two fronts; legislation and enforcement. Whilst the legislation that we currently possess in the UK is on the whole fit for purpose in asserting and protecting the rights of software developers, the enforcement side battling against IP offences can fall short.

"Through our Software — Stay Legal campaign we work closely with Trading Standards and other law enforcement bodies throughout the UK to highlight the issues we face. There are implications for job and wealth creation. It would be a great shame to see the heritage of the good work currently done by Trading Standards jeopardised by further cuts to their budget. Enforcement funding should be fully ring fenced.”

Under section 107A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Trading Standards has the duty to prosecute copyright offences and may inspect workplaces to check for software compliance. FAST is providing guidance for Trading Standards officers across the country on how to deal with piracy at a practical level and thus be equipped to enforce intellectual property rights.

“In these times of austerity, budget cuts are a fact of life, and government departments often must do more with less. It’s important, however, that we do not lose sight of the larger picture. It’s vital that we maintain the integrity of enforcement agencies, such as Trading Standards, to challenge the sale and use of counterfeit software and limit its effects on the broader economy,” he concluded.

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