Fast, The Federation Against Software Theft, wants to make blowing the whistle on software pirates as simple as push ing a button.

Recently the number of people shopping pirates to Fast has dropped and the organisation wants to stop the rot before it sets in.

On Monday or Tuesday next week, the London non-profit organisation will launch a software plug-in for Microsoft's Internet Explorer that, when installed, will put an 'F' button on a user's browser, said lawyer and Fast representative Julian Heathcote Hobbins. The software, to be called ReportIT, will be free and available at the Fast website.

"The software makes reporting instances of illegal software piracy very straightforward. In the past, people would have to go to our website and fill out a form, and the process was rather complicated. That's completely changed with this software; it's free, easy and you can even make an anonymous report if you'd like," Heathcote Hobbins said.

If a user finds him or herself on a website that sells illegal software — be it music, games, movies or programs — one click on the F button will bring up a box into which a person can type their name, a fake name or no name at all, answer a few other questions and then click send. The site is automatically logged.

Losses due to software piracy were nearly £8.2bn worldwide in 2000, according to the Business Software Alliance's annual report. The BSA's report for 2001 is expected to be published next month.

Fast, which does not concern itself with the peer-to-peer file sharing world of Kazaa and Napster, had been receiving a steady stream of email and telephone calls reporting the sale of illegal pirated software until recently, he said.

"Since December and this spring, our emails have fallen to about 10 on the weekends and one or two a night on the weekdays. That works out to about 1,000 reports a year, which is about a fifth of what it had been. I don't know if that's because pirates have gone more underground or perhaps our old system was a bit of a pain," Heathcote Hobbins said.

Fast is also developing plug-in software for the Netscape browser but is uncertain as to the time frame for its release.

Fast not only provides monitors software sold illegally over the internet, but also for unregistered software that is being used by companies. About 37 percent of business software used worldwide in 2000 consisted of illegal copies, according to the BSA report.