The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!

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