Software piracy in developing countries is a serious issue. According to a report from the Business Software Alliance trade group, the value of software pirated across the globe in 2010 was $59 billion. Out of this, the value of pirated software used in emerging markets was over $31.9 billion.
While more than half of all the PC shipments in the world were made to emerging markets in 2010, the share of emerging markets in global PC software sales was merely 19 percent. The average piracy rate among the developing countries was 69 percent as compared to 26 percent in developed economies.
Many experts believe that the problem of piracy exists because laws related to protecting intellectual property are not enforced properly in the developing nations. According to the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, governments have to fulfill their obligations by implementing laws and regulations that prevent infringement of intellectual property rights.
Let's look at the problem in a different dimension. For a start, consider the following statistics related to various countries in both the developed and emerging categories:
From the stats, it's evident that income levels have a direct impact on piracy rates. The low-income level in some of the developing countries is the foremost reason for high piracy rates. Hence, in the case of these emerging economies, the issue to target is the affordability of the software, as opposed to implementation and enforcement of piracy laws.
Assuming piracy laws are made stricter in developing countries and enforcement is improved, the situation is likely to get worse. IT is one of the most booming sectors in some of the developing countries, and software plays a key role in the development of the economy. With laws against piracy, many small businesses (that cannot afford licensed software) will be deprived of valuable applications that they use in everyday business. Students are also likely to suffer as they lose access to valuable educational programs and resources.
It's unlikely that software companies will gain anything out of enforcing piracy laws in developing countries. In fact, by depriving small businesses of growth opportunities, they are losing out on potential customers. If small businesses grow into large organizations, they are more likely to purchase licensed software for use.
Book publishers realized long ago that it would be a great challenge to cut down on piracy in the developing economies. They came up with the idea of "low-priced editions" specifically for developing countries. These books were printed on low-quality recycled paper and were bound in paperback.
A similar solution is needed in the software industry. Software companies should start shipping low-priced, stripped-down versions of original software to developing countries. The low-priced versions can have all necessary features of the original packages, but with certain missing options. Microsoft has been following a similar strategy by rolling out free "Express" editions of their development tools, but this is yet to be implemented for commonly used products such as Windows or Office.
A lot of other software companies need to step up and follow this approach to cut down on piracy globally.
— Taimoor Zubair works as a software engineer at a leading BPO solutions company in Pakistan.