Libel action over mix-up

A Bradford accountancy firm is threatening to launch a libel action against the influential Business Software Alliance over a press release which it says implied it had used pirated software.

The controversy centres on a press release sent out earlier this month by the BSA, an international association of software vendors, whose main backers include Microsoft.

Headed ‘BSA gets tough with small and medium-sized businesses’, the release said the BSA had reached an out-of-court settlement in January with ‘chartered accountants Rawlinsons’ which had paid #6,000 ‘for the illegal use of Microsoft Word and Excel’. Five other companies were also singled out in examples of successful anti-piracy measures.

However, there are two chartered accountancy firms called Rawlinsons, one in Bradford and another in Peterborough.

Rawlinsons accountants, based in Peterborough, which is understood to be the firm that reached the settlement, refused to comment. But Richard Hayter, senior partner at three-partner Rawlinson’s in Bradford, which has a fee income of around #850,000 a year, said: ‘My firm doesn’t use Microsoft Word or Excel. They’ll be hearing from our lawyers.’

He added that the BSA campaign letter could damage Rawlinsons’ reputation in the local area: ‘We might be a small firm but we’re very well known in Bradford. We resell accountancy software and if clients see the BSA release, they might wonder if they’re getting real software,’ he said.

BSA European communications manager Beth Scott said the document referred to Rawlinsons chartered accountants in Peterborough. ‘It wasn’t our intent to name Rawlinsons in Bradford and we’ll send out a corrected release to everyone who received the original.’ She added that, although this was the first case of mistaken identity, it highlighted the need to review the publicity process.

Graham Arthur, a solicitor at law firm Covington & Burling which represents the BSA, confirmed that Bradford-based Rawlinsons had threatened the BSA with litigation.

He denied, however, the BSA’s press release was libellous: ‘For a libel you have to have inaccuracy and to print something after you know it isn’t true. There is a firm called Rawlinsons so it’s accurate and we didn’t know about the Rawlinsons in Bradford,’ he said.

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