Software Piracy as Political Statement: Is Commercial Software Only for the Rich?

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The fifth annual global software piracy study finds signs that enforcement is working, but emerging markets are getting their start on PCs with unlicensed software.


The Business Software Alliance (BSA) released its fifth annual global PC software piracy study this week, and the numbers are mind-boggling.


According to the study, which was conducted by IDC, one of the industry's leading global market research and forecasting firms, losses from piracy reached nearly $48 billion in 2007, some $8 billion more than the prior year. There was an optimistic note in the report, however, since piracy was found to be declining in 67 of the 108 countries included in the report. Even though only eight countries had piracy rates that were increasing, they also happened to be countries where PC use is growing rapidly.


IDC estimates there were more than 1 billion PCs installed around the world at the end of 2007, and close to half of them had pirated, unlicensed software on them. Nevertheless, efforts by government and industry to combat piracy are working, IDC says. Armenia has the highest rate of piracy, with 93 percent of all PCs running unlicensed software, while the U.S. has the lowest rate at 20 percent.


If you make a living by creating or distributing software, you have to be in favor of industry efforts to crack down on people and organizations that use your products without paying for them. And I realize many of our readers are in that business, not to mention our advertisers, who support us. Fortunately, there isn't much software piracy in the midrange space (at least that I have heard about).


If you are on the sidelines, however, and you look at the software piracy issue from a global perspective, there are some amusing footnotes. First of all, you have to note the grip that Microsoft has on those billion computers. I'm guessing 99 percent of them are running some version of Windows. I use Windows; I like Windows. I have to reboot about three times a day to clear the memory, but I haven't had a crash in...well, quite some time now (which reminds me, I better save this document). And I need to remember to download the latest Microsoft security patch to fix the endless vulnerabilities that somehow never seem to get corrected.


Anyway, when you consider how many really good operating systems there are out there, you have to ask yourself why so many desktop computers use Windows. It's good marketing, right? Good products? Compatibility? Some would argue, however, it's years of ruthless anti-competitive hardball practices that have really tipped the scale. That may or may not be true. Just because the European Union fined the company $10 billion recently as the result of a refusal to abide by its earlier anti-trust findings doesn't prove anything. The commissioners are probably all French.


The point is that you've got people in, say, India, where the average annual per capita income is $620 (as of 2004), or China where it's $1,290, who want, dare I say "need," to get online to find romance on, and they have to get their hands on a PC to do it! But here comes Microsoft, who wants to nick them $199 for an operating system. And by the way, how about shelling out another $400 for our office suite? Heck, even I can't afford Office 2007. So how can someone earning $1300 a year be expected to pay that? The obvious answer is that they can't. (And by the way, forget health insurance---I need my PC!)


Suppose you desperately need something, but you can't afford to pay for it. What do you do? You download a peer-to-peer software application, such as Kazaa, and you then ask people around the world if they wouldn't mind giving you the application for free. Do you think people email back, "Hell no! Go buy your own, you deadbeat!" No, they just send you a free copy. They know you might be making only $100 a month and you probably could use some help. Most people out there in the rest of the world are poor, in case you hadn't noticed the recent food riots over shortages of rice. Anyway, let them eat cake, I say. And if they steal any expensive software, someone should sue the pants off them, get a judgment, attach their wages, and make them pay--big time.


Well, hopefully those days are behind us (except the food shortages) because now we have open-source software. The poor no longer have to steal software; it's all free! By the way, Sharman Networks, makers of Kazaa, got sued and now will be cooperating with copyright holders to help distribute licensed content.


I would like to leave you with the impression that all is improving and the world is now a joyful place, but alas. There is still the problem of Iran. You see, Iran has no copyright relations whatsoever with the United States. If you want to copy and distribute software developed in Iran, go for it. The only problem is, Iran doesn't produce much software. Why? There is no incentive to do so because you can buy pirated U.S. software for as little as $5 per CD set at any open-air market in Tehran. I'm sure many readers would jump at getting a copy of Windows XP, Farsi edition, for $24.99, or Adobe Photoshop for $34.99. Just go to While there, be sure to download the Quran ringtones for your mobile phone.