Majority of APAC computer users admit to participating in software piracy

Sixty-three percent of computer users in Asia Pacific admit to software piracy, above the global average of 57 percent.

Software piracy in the Asia-Pacific region has risen to a record high of nearly US$21 billion, says the Business Software Alliance (BSA) in a media briefing held earlier this week in Singapore. The statistics were furnished as part of the ninth edition of BSA's Global Software Piracy Study, conducted in 33 countries with data from about 15,000 consumer and business PC users. You can download the executive summary with statistics given by individual countries here.

In total, 63% of computer users in the region - or three in five computer users - admit to acquiring pirated software. This is noticeably higher than the global average of 57%. A quick glance through the statistics compiled in the report shows more developed countries in the region with a lower piracy rate, with Japan (21%), New Zealand (22%) and Australia (23%) near the bottom of the list. On the other hand, Bangladesh (90%), Indonesia (86%) and Pakistan (86%) scored at the top of the chart. In contrast, the piracy rate in the U.S. is pegged at just 19%, while Singapore came in at 33%.

Roland Chan, senior director of marketing for Asia-Pacific at BSA told Ryan Huang of ZDNet Asia that while tougher laws "sound like a good idea in theory," it may actually end up discouraging trade. Instead, Chan advocated the use of awareness and education.

Of course, software piracy in Singapore has steadily declined over the years as a result of continued enforcement measures including police raids, which have been taking place more frequently since the country's Copyright Act has been revised to make the selling of unlicensed software a criminal offense in 2005. In Singapore, the penalties of software piracy are harsh: An offender with five or more pirated items could be jailed for up to five years and fined up to SG$100,000 (US$78,500).

In addition, the BSA has also adopted a tactic of issuing written warnings to companies using software that infringes on the license of its members, offering the option to either license their software or be hauled off to court. The small size of Singapore means that any cases involving a business will likely make it to national headlines, though the frequency in which BSA issues such warnings is not known.

Overall, I'm not too surprised by some of the high piracy rates in some of the Asia Pacific countries. Having travelled to some of the neighboring countries with high piracy rates, it's common to find shops peddling CDs and DVDs of bootleg movies and software. These are sold at about at just a few dollars per disc, with some packed with multiple unlicensed software.

I agree that the only way to lower piracy rates is by gradually changing the mind set of users, coupled with a realistic pricing strategy. However, the large disparity in income levels and increase of computer ownership and usage in the region may mean that it will be some time yet before piracy rates fall.