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I ask because according to the latest data, there would seem to be an increasing number of working pirates around these days. The trouble is that they can be hard to spot as they do not tend to go for the Captain Jack look nor sport a long beard, come missing a leg or complete with a parrot. However, according to web security specialist ScanSafe, there has been a 55% increase in employees attempting to download illegal software and MP3s in the workplace over the last three months, so they are obviously out there and quite possibly in your office.

ScanSafe processes data for millions of employees across 100 countries to enable it to gain significant insight into the latest web traffic and malware trends, which is why this corporate piracy increase is so worrying. We all know that the death of piracy is about as likely as the death of porn, and the threat of major lawsuits have little real impact despite some well publicised success stories, but that doesn't mean it should just be accepted in the workplace.

"Employees mistakenly assume they can use the Internet at work in exactly the same way as they use it at home and this is potentially one of the reasons for this steady increase in illegal download attempts over recent months" said Spencer Parker, director of product management at ScanSafe who adds "inappropriate Internet use in the workplace can put the employer at risk for legal liabilities".

Indeed, an employer will often be held legally responsible for any wrongful acts committed by an employee in the course of their employment. That phrase, 'in the course of their employment' can be broadly interpreted to include those acts which are expressly forbidden by the employer by way of acceptable use policies and contracts of employment. The principle of vicarious liability will usually apply in such circumstances. That said, even if a lawsuit is unsuccessful, dealing with the process can be costly in terms of both time and money, not to mention the brand impact of any surrounding publicity the case generates.

Parker comments that "downloading illegal content is a double whammy for employers as not only does it put them at risk legally but it also puts the company network at risk of being infected with malware. A large majority of free illegal downloading websites are often riddled with malware".

Therefore, organisations are advised to formulate Internet usage policies and educate employees on the goals of these policies, including making clear the potential consequences of non-compliance. Employers must require staff to sign to acknowledge their understanding of acceptable Web use during working hours as a matter of urgency in the light of this new data.

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