An extraordinary legal battle is shaping up in the Federal Court with a multinational software company suing NSW Police for wide-scale copyright piracy.
UK software company Micro Focus is demanding at least $10 million in damages from NSW Police.
It claims NSW Police has been using pirated copies of their computer software for more than a decade to run their COPS (Computerised Operational Police System) - the largest criminal intelligence database in the country.
It was a routine request from the NSW Ombudsman's office back in August 2010 that first set off alarm bells for Bruce Craig, the Australasian managing director of Micro Focus.
"Our team was out at the Ombudsman's and in a conversation they said they were accessing the COPS database using our software," he told 7.30.
"And we said what software - you don't own our software?"
The software in question is called ViewNow. It is a mainframe computer program NSW Police began using in 1998 to access the COPS database, which holds the highly confidential details of just about every citizen in the state.
He says police were allowed to use up to 6,500 ViewNow licences and if they wanted any more, they would have to pay for them.
"The licenses were for police only. Yet police were out there handing out our software like confetti," he said.
'Out of control'
But it gets worse. Micro Focus say when they asked police just how many of the 6,500 ViewNow licenses they were using, a police employee allegedly told them: "Oh f--k. We've rolled out 16,000 devices".
"They did not pay for those extra licenses," Mr Craig said.
"It's incredible. It shows an organisation that's completely out of control."
Mr Craig says police have spent the past 18 months stalling.
At first, he says, police claimed they had lost the contract. He says they then told him it was impossible to tell exactly how many of the 20,000-strong police workforce had been using the software over the past decade.
Mr Speck, a former NSW detective, says the idea that NSW Police - the fifth largest police force in the world - cannot track every piece of software they are using seems extraordinary.
"Cant find the license is the pirates' equivalent of the dog ate my homework," he said.
"They said if we wanted to audit them we would require a court order," Mr Craig said.
"The minute we advised police there was an issue they began de-installing our software. They de-installed it without keeping records."
In essence, the NSW Police defence is that it has all been a terrible misunderstanding.
In its statement of defence before the Federal Court, NSW Police say on their reading of their contract, Micro Focus had not limited them to 6,500 ViewNow licenses. Rather, it gave them the right to reproduce as many licenses as they wanted.
"No software company would give away their IP forever for unlimited use," Mr Craig said.
But it is about to get even uglier. Micro Focus plans to launch yet another lawsuit, this time accusing the police of trying to replace the first batch of pirated software with another batch of pirated software which also belongs to Micro Focus.
The company claims this latest version of pirated software - a NetManage Applet - was provided by NSW Police to Corrective Services last year as they were scrambling to delete the ViewNow software.
But what Micro Focus now wants to know is how widely the pirated Applet is being used to run the COPS system.
"What's incredible is that they've gone to any length to try and avoid discovery of what's being used in there," Mr Craig said.
"They've been continually deleting our product, they need to replace it with something.
"And that they've replaced it with another license they have no right to use, its just astonishing. It's madness."
NSW Police have denied the latest allegations by Micro Focus, and have vowed to "vigorously defend" any future court action.