More than one third of the software installed on the world's computers is pirated according to a survey by the Business Software Alliance.
Pirated software is widely used
The annual survey of global software piracy shows that 36% of software was being used illegally in 2003 according to figures prepared for the BSA.
North America was the most law-abiding region and had a piracy rate of 23%.
The most piracy-ridden region was Eastern Europe where currently 71% of the software in use is stolen.
Direct comparisons of past survey results with those produced for 2003 are difficult because the latest survey was the first compiled by IDC and it takes in a wider range of software than previous years.
Formerly the survey only included programs used by businesses. However, the new survey now counts operating systems, consumer software and locally produced programs.
The survey counts illegally produced versions of programs as well as applications that firms are using but do not have enough licences for.
Austria - 27%
Belgium - 29%
Cyprus - 55%
Czech Republic - 40%
Denmark - 26%
Estonia - 54%
Finland - 31%
France - 45%
Germany - 30%
Greece - 63%
Hungary - 42%
Ireland - 41%
Italy - 49%
Latvia - 57%
Lithuania - 58%
Malta - 46%
Netherlands - 33%
Poland - 58%
Portugal - 41%
Slovakia - 50%
Slovenia - 52%
Spain - 44%
Sweden - 27%
UK - 29%
Regional average - 37%
Duncan Brown, consulting director at IDC, said the survey revealed that piracy rates had risen slightly but, because the market being considered was bigger, the cost of the pirated software to the computer industry was markedly higher.
For instance, piracy rates in the UK according to the 2003 survey were 29% compared to 26% in 2002 under the old counting system.
This equated to a loss of $1.6bn to UK technology firms, said Mr Brown.
For Europe the 2002 figures were 35% and in 2003 stood at 37%.
Mike Newton, campaigns relations manager for the BSA said although trends from 2002-03 were hard to pick out there were some worrying signs.
"Right now we feel that piracy rates are on the up," he said.
Globally pirated software represents a loss of $29bn to the technology industry and governments.
Organised crime was involved in producing fake software because it could be so lucrative, he said.
"Increasingly we see a hardcore criminal element behind the counterfeiting," said Mr Newton.
But he added that the 2003 figures did not yet take into account the work of the EU on directives that aim to tackle piracy in many forms.
European copyright and enforcement directives may make themselves felt in the next batch of figures, he said.
However, many EU nations had yet to shape local laws that enact these directives, said Mr Newton.
Other work by the BSA might soon have an effect, he said.
"We're starting at grass roots to convince schoolkids and teachers that respect for intellectual property is something they should grow up with," he said.
Security worries were prompting many firms to start using auditing tools that gave them a much better idea of what software was being used in their organisations, he said.
"If you do not know what's on your network there could be all kinds of stuff on there that's far more threatening than a piece of counterfeit software," he said.
"This is something that needs to be tackled before it tackles you," he said.