The Business Software Alliance (BSA) is continuing its blinkered crusade against software pirates, this time asking for the legal power to force Australian ISPs to stop hosting content that it deems is infringing intellectual property rights.

The group's latest attempt to pass itself off as having legitimate legal powers against pirates came as it released an annual survey that, unbelievably, demonstrated that the piracy situation needs to be tackled.

According to the BSA, it should be granted power in Australia under the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US. Asia Pacific director, Jeffrey Hardee, said: "We are hoping that in the coming years in Australia we will see even more reductions in software piracy levels because of the FTA. We think it's important to have recognition that IP is an important part of the FTA." Etc etc.

Hardee said the Alliance has sent out as many as 3,000 copyright violation notices to ISPs in the Asia-Pacific region - which includes China, India, Indonesia - and Australia, and said legislation needed to be toughened up. "Strengthening ISP liability is very important. Internet piracy is a rapidly growing form of piracy. Bandwidth is increasing, the number of Internet users is increasing and we are seeing rapid increases in the levels of software piracy."

The BSA's claims were rejected by the Australian office of federal communications however. "ISPs that follow required procedures will avoid liability for copyright infringements, " said the spokesman for IT minister Daryl Williams. "The legislation also introduces a new offense for copyright piracy where there is substantial prejudicial impact on the copyright owner and the activity is on a commercial scale and it strengthens Australia?s criminal provisions relating to use of pirated software by businesses."

Australia's body for ISPs, the Internet Industry Association (IIA), was not available for comment but is known to hold a long-standing objection to private interests seeking access to their members' customer data or traffic without formalised law enforcement backing.

The BSA has a history across the world of pretending to possess legal powers it doesn't and using pseudo-official documentation to pressure companies into complying with its demands. It is also renowned for making extravagant claims about the level and cost of pirated software and how it can tell whether pirated software is being used. One such oddity was a BSA detector van that it took round the UK telling commuters it could pick up pirated software running on computers. It claimed otherwise when confronted.

Nevertheless, the BSA's global survey on software piracy levels found that Australian levels remain virtually unchanged. The level of pirated software used in Australia is apparently 31 percent - down just one percent from its survey last year.

Here is its method for the survey, run by IDC: "For its analysis, IDC drew upon its worldwide data for software and hardware shipments, conducted more than 5,600 interviews in 15 countries, and used in-country analysts around the globe to evaluate local market conditions," a statement by the BSA said.

It added that IDC calculated piracy rates and US dollar losses by using IDC proprietary models for PC, software and license shipments by all industry vendors in 86 countries. However, indications of what sort of software is being pirated, and the vendors most affected remains a mystery, with IDC and BSA refusing to divulge any vendor-specific detail on either operating systems or platforms.

IDC senior research manager for Asia Pacific consulting, Martin Kralik argued vendor details were not published - despite being collected - because they would not help fight piracy. "The reason why we are not giving out a more granular breakdown is that we believe it may be more counterproductive in that there are variables in the estimates of the breakdown between Windows, non-Windows etc, and other variations in average system value. We are putting forward the top-line data that is consistent worldwide," Kralik said.

Business as usual at the BSA.