SOFTWARE theft, or piracy as it is more commonly known, costs the worldwide software industry an estimated US$15 billion each year, out of a total world market of $43 billion, and Asia is a major offender. Last month, after lobbying from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a trade group representing major software publishers in their worldwide fight against software piracy, US Trade Representative (USTR) Mickey Kantor, announced revisions to the special 301 review process. In a departure from past practice, Mr Kantor announced the initiation of ''immediate action plans'' that will include deadlines and benchmarks for evaluating a country's performance, as well as out-of-cycle reviews. This was being done, Mr Kantor said, in an attempt to avoid what he described as ''an annual spring time flurry of enforcement actions'', as the new administration shows its determination to enforce the special 301 provisions of the Trade Act. In a recent submission to the USTR by the BSA, Korea was named as one of the worst countries in the world for protecting software copyright. The filing, submitted by the Washington-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), recommended that three Asian countries, Taiwan, Thailand, and China, all previously listed as ''Priority Foreign Countries'' be placed under Section 306 monitoring. This would give the US Government the power to impose sanctions immediately. Ms Alix Parlour, vice president of the BSA in Asia said: ''The type of theft in Korea poses an enormous burden on software publishers and their customers''. She added that: ''Losses due to software theft in Korea in 1991 exceeded $315 million, with 88 per cent of software illegally copied''. The BSA has also applauded the recent steps taken by China to improve its copyright legislation, and its willingness to co-operate with the BSA in its work to stamp out software theft. The so-called special 301 provisions of the Trade Act, authorise the US to impose trade sanctions against countries which conduct unfair trade practices, including the insufficient protection of intellectual property. According to BSA estimates the world market for software will reach $1 trillion by 2000, and with the US presently controlling about 70 per cent of the market, it is not surprising they are prepared to fight to protect their share of the computer software pie. Under special 301, a country is evaluated, depending on it's copyright legislation and it's ability to enforce legislation. Mr Kantor identified Thailand as one of three priority watch countries, along with Brazil, and India. He also placed Hungary and Taiwan on the priority watch and initiated ''immediate action plans'', which are to be completed by July 31. ''I am determined to enforce these deadlines and take action, if necessary through out-of-cycle reviews of a country's status under Special 301,'' Mr Kantor said. He stressed that he was committed to giving a fresh direction to the special 301 review process to ensure that the Clinton administration's objectives were clear and that other countries know what were expected. BSA spokesman Stuart Newell said ''I do detect a mood that the US Government is taking this more seriously. It is toughening its stance against Asian countries''. ''This has gone on for far too long and it is really an intolerable situation,'' he added. ''The trouble is software is easy to copy, and unlike computer hardware, many people do not look upon software as a physical thing, which you possess.'' In addition the BSA feels that software theft stifles creativity, destroys the incentive for innovation and clogs the growth of new industry. As Stuart Newell pointed out, ''you cannot compete against someone who's selling you software for $10 a piece''.