Only months after the Hong Kong Government claimed software piracy had been beaten into submission, the street trade in illegal applications appears to be booming. Shops are again openly selling cheap pirated software in computer arcades in Mongkok, Wan Chai and Shamshuipo. While no hard data exists on how much piracy is taking place, industry officials say the illicit trade is growing. 'This is ridiculous,' Microsoft senior corporate attorney Tom Robertson said during an afternoon visit to a Kowloon computer mall, where much of one floor was filled with pirated software. 'This is a very up-to-date selection. Everything you would want.' Mr Robertson, also a vice-president with anti-piracy lobby group Business Software Alliance (BSA), pointed out shelves containing copied Microsoft software. Office 2000, Windows ME and other applications were selling for HK$40 or less - a fraction of the cost for a licensed version. Mr Robertson said when the new Windows XP operating system was released, it would probably be available through Hong Kong pirates almost instantaneously. Howard Digby, local head of Adobe and Hong Kong chairman of the BSA, said he had also seen resurgence in piracy. 'If it gets any worse, it will start to undo all the good work that has been done educating people about the problems piracy creates,' he said. The rebound could be an embarrassment to the Government, coming as tough new intellectual property laws are enacted, and after Commissioner of Customs and Excise John Tsang Chun-wah declared piracy had been virtually eradicated from the SAR. Mr Tsang said there were fewer than 100 stores selling pirated software - down from a high of 1,000 - and most had limited stock and opened for only a few hours a day. 'The reduction in CDs in circulation is an astonishing 98 per cent,' he said in October. Some observers suggested the apparent increase in piracy was the result of declining Government enforcement efforts. After a sustained campaign of raids against shops selling counterfeit software, the Customs Department recently reduced the number of officers in the Special Task Force from 185 to 155. Assistant Commissioner of Customs and Excise Vincent Poon Yeung-kwong said the cuts had not affected enforcement efforts because more officers could be drawn on as needed from other departments. Mr Poon said his officers had investigated claims the piracy business was increasing, and found most of the software being sold either had no copyright protection, or no complaint had been lodged by the copyright owners. Many smaller applications and computer game developers are not represented by the BSA and are unable to police their copyrights beyond their home countries. However, Mr Robertson said he had found no shortage of products from his company, and virtually every other large software producer, being sold illegally. He pointed to a copy of the latest AutoCAD design software on sale in Mongkok for HK$140. Its normal retail price is HK$26,800. Peter Beruk, vice-president for anti-piracy programmes with United States-based Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), said while Hong Kong had made great strides against piracy, he was concerned the situation could deteriorate. 'Our fear was that if pressure was not kept on Hong Kong Customs, that their efforts may slacken,' he said. Marcus Chu, who worked for the SIIA in Hong Kong before the organisation closed its SAR operation, said the software industry must take some of the blame for the increase in piracy. He said only a few companies still actively worked with Customs officials to help get convictions. 'It's like the police catch a criminal and recover a wallet and then when the case gets to court nobody comes forward and says the wallet is stolen,' he said. Mr Tsang expressed his dismay over declining industry support, saying it was 'extremely short-sighted'.