For many the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is their primary, and often only, source for information on software piracy. However, according to a new report on piracy in the emerging world, the BSA is often selective in how it reports and analyses piracy figures. It also tends to overemphasise the scale of the problem to win points.
The report, Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, released by the Social Science Research Council, investigates a range of countries and their respective piracy rates, including South Africa. The report ultimately concludes that it is the relative cost of media in these developing countries that leads to piracy and not simply a criminal element. It also says that neglected local markets, without competition, lead to greater rates in piracy.
As far as South Africa is concerned the report questions the validity of the BSA’s figures, suggesting that the organisation extrapolates these from general regional trends. “We are sceptical that the BSA can reliably measure trends at this level of detail,” the authors say of a supposed 1% increase in piracy in 2008.
The report goes on to say that after showing steady declines in piracy rates between 1997 and 2002 “the BSA changed its methodology in 2003 to include Microsoft Windows and a variety of consumer applications.” The result of this change was that the supposed “losses” to software piracy in that year increased fourfold to US$119 million (R822 million). From that point on the BSA’s reported “losses” climbed steadily, hitting US$335 million in 2008, an estimate that the report says is “an order of magnitude larger than any other industry claim.”
Until 2009, the BSA’s reports equated pirated copies with industry losses. After much pressure, the report says, the BSA dropped this formula in “favour of a more general assertion about the’commercial value’ of unlicensed copies.” One of the effects of that was that the reported “losses” in the 2009 annual report released by the BSA dropped US$11 million to US$325 million, despite a constant piracy rate of 35 percent for 2008 and 2009.
How widespread is piracy?
The report also puts software piracy in South Africa into context. Despite the generally increasing “losses” reported by the BSA, the piracy rate – at around 35 percent – has held steady since about 2002. According to the BSA’s own numbers the rate of software piracy in South Africa from 2005 to 2009 ranged between 34 percent and 35 percent. During the same period the BSA-reported losses increased from US$212 million to US$324 million, peaking in 2008 at US$335 million.
The rate of piracy in South Africa, at around 35 percent, is substantially lower than most other countries in the world, including some in Europe. Russia, for example, reported a 67 percent piracy rate in 2009, Mexico 60 percent and Brazil 56 percent. In western Europe, Greece reported 58 percent piracy, Italy 49 percent and Spain 42 percent, all significantly higher than South Africa’s rate.
In fact, South Africa stands out as an African country with a marginal piracy rate. Piracy rates across Africa are typically in the region of 80 percent with the 2009 average piracy rate across the Middle East and Africa standing at 59 percent.
Significantly high piracy rates in Africa are reported in, among others, Zimbabwe (92 percent), Zambia(82 percent) and Botswana(79 percent). The results emphasise that it is poorer countries with a higher software price to income ratio that show higher piracy rates.
South Africa is the country with the lowest reported piracy rate in Africa.
The full Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report can be downloaded from http://piracy.ssrc.org.
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