File-swapping aficionados beware: those MP3s you've been storing on your office computer could soon catch the attention of your network administrator and may even bring the wrath of the legal department down upon your head.

Digital copyright protection technology expert Macrovision and internet management software maker Websense yesterday announced a strategic partnership to develop tools for locating pirated files on corporate and government networks.

The partnership is a response to heightened concern among corporations that they could be the target of lawsuits filed by industry groups when company resources are used to download, store, or distribute pirated content.

"This is a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Kian Saneii, vice president of business development at Websense. "All you need are a few lawsuits in order for people to say I need this [software] to sleep well at night".

Websense's desktop client will monitor user activity on the desktop and manage that activity according to policies set out by the company and network administrator, much like its internet management software does for web browsing.

Application-, port- and protocol-level activity associated with network games, peer-to-peer applications or instant messaging can all be tracked, logged and locked down.

The integration of Macrovision's SafeDisc and SafeScan digital rights management technology with Websense makes it possible to determine whether a particular media file is a legal copy, or whether it is pirated.

"We need to know, if an employee has the Star Wars DVD on their hard drive, if it's a copyright-protected edition that they legally purchased online, or a hacked version — and if it's hacked, whether they're distributing it," Saneii said.

But the problem with the software is one of privacy. In the UK, employers can be held responsible for any illegal content being used or downloaded on to their employees' machines. However, companies must still be careful not to trample on their workers' rights to privacy.

"Monitoring workers' movements is all well and good, providing the user knows they are being watched, otherwise the employer has gone beyond monitoring into the boundaries of snooping," said a spokesman at civil liberties group Privacy International.

But Websense's Saneii doesn't see his product as an infringement of personal liberties. The policies enforced by Websense's technology, he points out, are most often spelled out in the employee handbook.

"We don't make value judgements. We make enabling technologies," Saneii said.

And with Websense's software controlling activities on the desktop, employers won't have to worry about personally policing their employees as the software will do it for them.

A release date for the software and pricing information or even how the software will be distributed has not yet been set, although Saneii said it would be available sometime in 2003.

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