The campaign is being carried out by the Estonian committee of the Business Software Association (BSA), an international non-profit consortium of computer companies, including Microsoft and Adobe.
BSA will send letters to the directors of 7,000 Estonian companies with recommendation to carry out IT audits.
The campaign will involve consultations to the heads of companies on the legal issues of software use. Afterward, companies can order an examination of its software. If any illegal software is discovered, the company can decide whether to uninstall it or obtain a license.
In September and October, BSA experts will not participate in any anti-piracy police raids, as they have been doing since 1996.
Ahti Leppik, BSA Estonian committee's executive director, said it is possible that companies may be unwittingly using illegal software without knowing it. Moreover, some people are not sure what piracy even consists of, he said.
To solve the problem, Leppik said, information on piracy needs to be available to everybody. "In this country, more work should be done to persuade citizens of the danger of piracy."
There have been hundreds of cases against vendors of illegal software in Estonia, but many fewer against the actual users of the goods. From January to June this year, the police confiscated 3,813 pirated CD-ROMs. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is by far the most frequently pirated software.
"It is because the MS operating system is very popular, and almost every PC has MS Office installed," Leppik said.
Leppik said that in 1998, 86 percent of all software in Estonia was illegal. This year that number has dropped to 75 percent. "This was mostly caused by the increase of public awareness of what pirated software is," he said.
Reports of companies using illegal software usually reach BSA by e-mail and occasional phone calls, he said.
After BSA receives a report on a certain company or user, the association takes steps to gather information about the company and the claim. When enough data is available, it is transferred to the police department, which carries out an investigation. Usually police officers are accompanied by specialists from BSA when seizing the illegal software.
One of the last prosecuted cases of piracy ended on Aug. 8, when a computer shop in the central Estonian town of Paide was sentenced to a 30,000 kroon ($1,670) fine for four programs used without licenses.
The minimum fine for illegal installation and running of the software for businesses is 7,500 kroons per program. The sum of the fine, however, cannot exceed 500,000 kroons.
According to BSA, fines for piracy are relatively high in Estonia in comparison with other countries. But the procedure of civil lawsuits to settle the cases is not fully developed in Estonia. The fines a person can be charged in civil lawsuits of software piracy in Western countries are much higher than here, said the association.
BSA commissioned the International Planning and Research Corporation to conduct a survey on global software piracy. According to the research, the global piracy rate for PC business software applications was 36 percent in 1999, amounting to a total loss of $12 billion for the software manufacturers. Although the global piracy rate has declined 13 percent since 1994 to 49 percent, still more than one out of every three software applications installed in the world is pirated.
Eastern Europe had the highest piracy rate of any region worldwide in 1994 and has maintained that distinction, despite a 15 percent drop. Russia, along with other former Soviet republics, is driving the losses, according to BSA.
As the price of legal software dropped in 1996-97, and software producers began to open more and more local distributing companies, the availability and feedback on legal software has improved.