DVD piracy in the workplace

The workplace is proving to be a major source of counterfeit DVDs. The Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness examines the penalties for copyright theft and how HR can help firms stay on the right side of the law

Is piracy in the workplace something employers need to worry about?

Recent research carried out by ICM Computer Group found that while piracy in the workplace is a growing concern for managers, the majority are not doing anything to counteract it.

ICM found that 74% of senior managers were ‘very concerned’ by staff involving themselves in film piracy in the workplace, while 82% were ‘very concerned’ about virus infections, hacking and other security breaches as a result of employees downloading or file sharing.

Despite these concerns, 50% of managing directors do not actively monitor or do not know if they monitor these activities, and 37% of companies still do not have specific clauses in employment contracts regulating or prohibiting staff from downloading or file sharing.

Piracy in the workplace is an illegal activity. Not only does downloading and burning films on office equipment waste company time, money and resources, it can leave systems open to attack by hackers or viruses. And if managers allow piracy on their premises they could also face legal action.

So what are the penalties surrounding piracy in the workplace?

The penalties for copyright theft range from a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment in the magistrates’ court to an unlimited fine and/or up to 10 years’ imprisonment if considered at the crown court.

In extreme cases, company directors, business owners or licensees who are found to actively assist or encourage copyright piracy on their premises may be guilty of aiding and abetting the copyright offences. They face the same penalties as those for the making or handling of unauthorised copies.

If a computer is on a company network and exposes customer information, both the member of staff and business may be liable.

What can employers do to prevent DVD piracy from taking place on their premises?

The first step must be a review of the organisation’s disciplinary procedure. Selling pirate goods of any description at work should be listed as an example of gross misconduct and it is important that all employees are made aware that such action will not be tolerated and may result in summary dismissal.

Should an employee be caught selling such goods at work then, provided a fair procedure is followed, they may be dismissed and if necessary, the relevant authorities notified.

The same process should be followed with regard to downloading and file sharing copyright material at work, though given that evidence of such conduct will probably be obtained by monitoring employee usage of e-mail and the internet, issues regarding human rights and data protection need to be considered.

However, if an employer has an e-mail and internet policy that stipulates that monitoring will take place, employees will not have the expectation that e-mail and internet use is private. Such a policy would further indicate that the employee has given consent to be monitored, and if the intention of the scrutiny is to detect piracy then, provided it is not unduly intrusive, it is also unlikely that data protection legislation would have been breached.

To ensure that piracy at work is stamped out, and to eliminate the risk of proceedings against company directors, employers must state clearly that such conduct will result in summary dismissal. They need to introduce e-mail and internet policies to monitor and, if necessary, obtain evidence in relation to piracy.

Is there any other way of minimising the risk?

Companies can improve their network security dramatically by taking a few simple and cost-effective precautions. These are aimed at shoring up loopholes in existing security structures and use a range of bolt-on solutions such as firewalls, corporate security software and traffic management applications. An up-to-date computer-user policy can also pay major dividends and is easy to implement.

Where can I find out more?

To request an information pack, ring 0113 290 4270 or visit www.piracyisacrime.com

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