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Anti-piracy day? No thanks

By   |  October 21, 2008

Today is Microsoft’s self-declared Global Anti-Piracy Day. No surprise then that the local arm of the Business Software Alliance has been ringing up journalists over the past couple of days with the ominous news that South Africa is losing between R2.8 billion to software pirates every year.

As usual, the BSA statements are sweeping and presumptive.

For a start, South Africa doesn’t really lose all this money. Most of the licensing money heads straight overseas to companies like Microsoft and Adobe with this country holding on to very little of it.

And then there is the usual assumption that just because people have the software illegally that they would actually have enough money to ever pay for it. It’s the same as a teenager with R10 000 worth of MP3s on his or her iPod. Most of it is pirated but the fact is that asked for the money they wouldn’t be able to hand it over. So in reality any money that the music industry could feasibly make out of the “pirate” is likely to be a whole lot less than the assumed R10 000. The same is true of software.

But the thing that really bothers me is that the BSA issues these kinds of sweeping statements that are all black and white: If you own a PC and you haven’t paid you licence fee then you’re a pirate. And if you copy software then you’re a pirate.

It’s all so clear, isn’t it?

Actually it’s not that obvious. For a start, not all software is as restrictive as most proprietary software. Free and open source software allows anyone to copy it and distribute it without being labelled a pirate. So not everyone running a PC is guaranteed to be a pirate and not everyone producing a document in Word’s document format actually owns a copy of Word, even illegally. It’s a lot more complicated than the BSA likes to make out.

There is also a growing ecosystem around open source IT in the country – most notably in government – that means there is value being created without the need for a Big Brother to frown over our shoulders the whole time and tell us what we can and can’t do. Free software brings with it opportunity, not restriction. The opportunity to grow, learn and develop a local software industry using free tools and that is worth a great deal more than just hard cash going into the pockets of an overseas conglomerate.

The BSA tends to act as if it speaks for the entire software world. In fact, it just represents the narrow financial interests of a few, admittedly large, software vendors.

Perhaps the BSA should consider renaming itself the Proprietary Software Alliance to avoid besmirching the good name of free software developers that want to share their outputs with the world. People who don’t believe in piracy but do want quality software.



12 Responses to “Anti-piracy day? No thanks”

  1. David Gerard
    October 21st, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

    This is really quite breathtakingly tasteless given the recent news coverage of, oh look, *actual robbery and murder at sea off the coast of Somalia*. Yes, copying that floppy is *exactly* like that. Idiots.

    My blog rant:

  2. Ronald
    October 21st, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

    Well written and approriate article. I like the suggestion about the proposed new name of the BSA because it can hardly be regarded as a representative body of all software developers.

  3. David Gerard
    October 21st, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

    Link fail! My blog rant is actually at – whoops :-)

  4. Jaco
    October 21st, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

    These figures are concocted out of the blue, and have very little relevance to them.

    I put it to you: these companies would not be in the situation they are today is they did not create this scenario, by turning a blind-eye in the early days in order to corner a dominant market-share


    When someone torrents a $12 album that they would have otherwise purchased, the record industry loses $12, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that $12 has magically vanished from the economy. On the contrary: someone has gotten the value of the album and still has $12 to spend somewhere else.

    In economic jargon, charging anything for pure IP—which has a marginal cost approaching zero once it has been produced—creates a deadweight economic loss, at least in static terms. The actual net loss of IP infringement is an allocative loss that only appears in a dynamic analysis. Simply put, when people pirate IP, the market is not accurately signaling how highly people value the effort that was put into creating it, which leads to underproduction of new IP.

  5. Dwayne Bailey
    October 21st, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

    Only R2,8 billion! Doesn’t South African already spend about R20 billion on software from these companies? Call it a tithe then or true Corporate Social Responsibility.

    Don’t get me wrong, the ability to pirate certainly cuts into the number of FOSS users.

    But I would love to know how they arrive at that number, which itself is miraculously close to the one they made (up) for Australia. Since its really economic guesswork and I guess if they want to dabble in economics we have to ask what is the opportunity cost. Is it really a problem that South African doesn’t pay R2,8 billion when the companies that copy illegally generate say R200 billion for the economy (I made that number up but at least I’m honest enough to admit it).

    Its the questions that aren’t being asked that I think bother me. The questions like how much does our government spend on proprietary IT each year. I believe it easily rivals that first number. Plus this romantic figure that is touted is that money for South Africa or for the members of the BSA. Does it just create obedient, everything compliant, box droppers or does it create a vibrant innovative software industry that can export knowledge and products.

    Since others can make up numbers and quote research that they funded I think I’ll just make up my own and see how it goes:

    The BSA reports that illegal software is installed on 34% of South African computers. Experts from the DTI report that recent studies show that if only 10% of these used Free and Open Source software that it would result in a growth industry that would contribute 5,531 jobs over the next 3 years and would see a growth in the software service industry to the tune of R6,3 billion. These figures only account for local revenues to companies but also have a positive impact on revenue collection for the state as they involve no repatriation of funds to overseas software supplier which are estimated at over R1 billion (this figure is disputed and may be much higher). Coupled with the ability of these service companies to become competitive global players the DTI estimates the positive increase of an estimated R20 billion per year over the next 10 years. The message is clear using Free Software will grow our economy.

  6. Anti-piracy day? No thanks | Pinoy Hackers
    October 22nd, 2008 @ 3:28 am

    […] ?pirate? is likely to be a whole lot less than the assumed R10 000. The same is true of software. READ MORE Posted in Tips & Tutorial | Leave a […]

  7. Ewald
    October 22nd, 2008 @ 8:03 am

    If MS and all the others really had protected their software as they predict, they had had no chance to become such big.
    I think more than half of Windows and related software are illegal copies, but that is for the fortune of them.
    If people would not be able to copy the software illegal, they would try to find another way, and that would clearly lead to FOSS,
    because this software can be copy and used legally and very easily.
    Now the Monopolies shout “catch the pirate”, but this stupid pirate made them so big.

  8. The Blog From Hell » Blog Archive » Aunti who is a pirate ?
    October 22nd, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    […] of a hallmark anti-holiday (if you’ll excuse the anti-pun). Tectonic has a very well written article on just how much the marketing blurb by the BSA in South Africa ignores (short version: all the […]

  9. Nico de Wet
    October 22nd, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

    Good to see the article leveraging anti-piracy day & the BSA to promote FOSS. This should be done more often in my mind, clearly not as the primary plus point for FOSS, but it does matter, knowing that the BSA can’t come after you or your business while you are happily running on say Ubuntu.

  10. Moerdyk
    October 24th, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

    Make it national beer day…..well everyday is national beer day lol. I use Linux on desktop and server and i will go and get another cold one now.Ciao!

  11. BS Alliance offers R100 000 to catch software pirates · Neverness
    October 29th, 2008 @ 1:05 am

    […] what they (or at least the sub writing the headline) thinks of the idea. Tectonic calls the claims sweeping and presumptive. The mybroadband forum discussion isn’t very sympathetic […]

  12. Boycott Novell » IRC: #boycottnovell @ FreeNode: February 11th, 2009
    February 12th, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

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