The Internet provides an unparalleled platform for excessive product consumption, often driving the most conservative of web-surfers to abandon frugal spending practices in exchange for the thrill of a “1 click” shop-a-thon. However, a recent study sheds interesting light on a market many net users aren’t buying into: software.

According to the 2011 Business Software Alliance (BSA) Global Software Piracy Study, 57 percent of computer users worldwide admitted that they used “pirated software or software that is not fully licensed,” refusing to shell out cash when programs are readily available for illegal download. While much of the BSA data may be old-hat for the SOPA and PIPA-versed net generation, the study draws attention to numerous lesser-reported international software piracy issues and suggests that increased focus should be placed on quashing piracy in emerging economies. The piracy rates in these developing markets were found to account for an inordinate amount of the increase in the commercial value of software theft, which rose from $58.8 billion in 2010 to $63.4 billion in 2011.

In its 2011 study, BSA researchers asked nearly 15,000 people from 33 different countries how often they pirated software. According to the BSA, 5 percent of web-surfers admitted to “always” pirating software, while 9 percent used pirated software “most of the time,” 17 percent “occasionally” pirated, and 26 percent “rarely” pirated. Study results indicate that the vast majority of self-reported software pirates are young, male, and not from the United States.

The BSA explains that rates of piracy in emerging markets well exceed those in established markets (like the US) because increased PC shipments to emerging economies have allowed the developing markets to exert increased influence over the worldwide computer industry, and because “frequent pirates in . . . emerging economies install nearly four times more software per new PC than their counterparts in the developed world.” Additionally, the BSA notes that computer users who most often pirated software also reported the highest rate of overall software usage (both legal and illegal), thus accounting for an “outsized impact on the global piracy rate.”

While current global support for intellectual property rights and protection is likely higher than ever, there appears to be a real lack of incentive for software pirates to change their swashbuckling ways. In fact, very few frequent software pirates believed that the risk of getting caught for software piracy was enough of a reason not to pirate. Interestingly, the BSA explains that business leaders tend to pirate software more often than private computer users and are significantly more likely to admit to purchasing software for a single computer with the intent to install it on other office machines. This is perhaps due to the low rates of prosecution for software piracy coupled with the exceptionally high prices associated with many forms of software (e.g., $670 for Adobe Photoshop!). Many consumers—particularly business leaders in developing economies—are simply unable to shoulder the costs.

In response to the 2011 study results, the BSA’s Senior Vice President of Anti-Piracy, Jodie Kelley, released the following statement: “IP theft is a global economic drain, stifling not only IT innovation, but job creation across all sectors of the economy.” Additionally, she declared that “governments, especially in emerging markets where most of the theft is taking place, must take steps to modernize their IP laws and expand enforcement efforts to ensure that those who pirate software face real consequences.”

The BSA’s efforts to aid in global prevention of software piracy by conducting the annual Global Piracy Study and “raising awareness of the negative impacts [of piracy] . . . through the news media” are certainly laudable in theory. But are the BSA’s widely publicized findings from its 2011 study really that groundbreaking? More importantly, are these findings likely to have any impact on governmental approaches to the establishment and maintenance of “modernized” IP laws (particularly in developing markets)? How much credence should be put into these self-reported survey results? For an in-depth explanation of the methodology used in the study, check out the BSA website.

Julie Latsko

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One Response to Blimey! Recent Study Suggests More Than Half of the World’s PC Users are Pirates

  1. Brandon Trout says:

    I wonder if the rates of software piracy in emerging countries is even higher than the BSA’s study suggests. I lived in Peru for a couple of years, and I don’t think I met anyone that used legitimately-obtained software. As you mentioned, there are many factors that contribute to this, and I think cost is the main one, especially in a third-world economy. Photoshop may seem like a lot to use at over $600, but that could be more than a month’s income for someone overseas. It seems that, economically speaking, these software companies should do something to price discriminate for poorer countries, and thus reap some profits from their software. They aren’t actually losing money from this piracy, they’re just not profiting from it.