The survey, by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) in association with the Educational Software Providers Association (ESPA) and the software giant Microsoft, reveals widespread confusion. Forty per cent of schools that responded admitted they may be breaking the law by illegally copying programs for home and school use.
Half of all primary schools and one in four secondary schools also admitted to not being aware of the penalties for using unlicensed software.
Scotland has "consistently higher levels of understanding about software licensing issues" compared with the rest of the country, according to the figures.
The Anglo-Scottish divide is most pronounced in awareness of the penalties for using unlicensed software - 63 per cent in Scotland compared with a UK average of 55 per cent.
Seventy-two per cent said there was someone to turn to for help with licensing issues, compared with 47 per cent in England.
Richard Pietrasik, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, says the differences can be attributed to the efforts by the Scottish Office som years ago to make money available to education authorities so they could give school staff time to develop an awareness of copyright issues.
Mr Pietrasik added: "Scotland is a smaller world than England, and when an issue is taken up the dissemination of information is more thorough."
But what they call the "legal time bomb" of illegal software use has led the two main organisations, BESA and ESPA, to aim for more standardisation of licences and mount an information campaign for schools.
Dominic Savage, chief executive of BESA, said: "The survey clearly illustrates a lack of understanding on software licensing on a widespread basis and inconsistent approaches across the UK.
There are very clear roles for both education and industry on such a major issue, and the association is working through ESPA, its special interest group of software suppliers, to encourage more standardisation of licences and better promotion of the facts to schools."
Microsoft has recently introduced a licensing programme for schools, called the "school agreement", which makes budgeting and administration much easier. A school merely counts the number of PCs and pays a set fee for the year covering a wide range of software.