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Pirated software? A $33,000 reward for reporting your boss.

Christmas bonuses will fatten top bankers wallets in Britain. Employees may benefit too, with a $33,000 reward for informing on illegal software use.

By Correspondent / December 3, 2009



LONDON – Christmas bonuses are making a comeback in London's financial district.

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But bosses better watch out.

In Britain, where popular anger over government bailouts of elite financial companies remains at fever pitch, ordinary London workers are being offered the chance to land a seasonal windfall of their own, and perhaps exact a Scrooge-style revenge.

The pitch? Inform on your bosses if they're using illegal software.

Research suggests there may be a lengthy queue of those willing to take the Business Software Alliance (BSA) up on its offer. The polling firm YouGov found that 40 percent of London workers who had been laid off were willing to turn their boss in for a monetary reward. As part of a crackdown on software piracy, the reward being offered to those who blow the whistle on infringements in the run-up before Dec. 31 has just been doubled to as much as $33,000.

The BSA, a trade organization active in 80 countries, is betting that cash-strapped employees at this time of the year may be more willing to report illegal practices, especially with Britain still mired in recession.

“We have seen a spike in leads in the London area,” says Julian Swann, the BSA’s director of compliance marketing.

“Of course, not everyone who gets in touch with us with a lead makes a request for a reward, it’s about half and half. But we have had hundreds of reports and we have paid out rewards.”

“Another trend is that the economic downturn has meant a lot of companies have been cutting corners, and it happens that companies which cut corners on software licensing are also cutting corners on other matters like health and safety, so people are concerned about that.”

The BSA strategy mirrors a similar successful campaign undertaken in the US 13 years ago. The group claims that as much as 41 percent of all software worldwide is pirated and that businesses and individuals in London alone are costing software companies some $247 million a year in lost sales.

And with job losses continuing to spiral – particularly in the banking sector - there is no shortage of employee anger. At Lloyds Banking Group - which is now 43 percent owned by the British taxpayers following financial crisis bailouts – the tally of job losses reached more than 15,000 last week.

But even as those cuts continue the British government has estimated that senior executives and traders will earn at least $8 billion between them in salary and bonuses.

The Financial Services Minister, Lord Myners, told the BBC Thursday that bankers should "come back into the real world" after directors at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) threatened to resign if the government blocked planned bonuses.

RBS, more than half owned by the taxpayer, is said to want to pay a total of £1.5bn in bonuses to investment banking staff.

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