Buddy, wanna buy a copy of the Microsoft Office XP at a steep discount? The box has a cool hologram, if you're wondering whether it's genuine. I can also sell you the latest accounting or computer-aided design programs."
Despite aggressive efforts by U.S. trade groups and their allies across the globe, that kind of chatter continues to characterize street kiosks and legitimate shopping malls throughout Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Despite recent progress, an estimated 39 percent of the software used by companies worldwide is unauthorized by manufacturers--and thus qualifies as "pirated." Even in North America, the region with the lowest piracy rates, 24 percent of all software used by businesses is unauthorized, according to the Eighth Annual BSA Global Software Survey (2003).
"Piracy rates are gradually declining, but that's not a great cause of celebration," said Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Alliance. "Rates remain very high. Two out of every five software programs are pirated (worldwide), and that's a tremendous drain on revenue."
Unscrupulous counterfeiters are hardly the only culprits. High piracy rates reflect the fact that, even in the U.S. and Canada, a significant number of businesses still view piracy as a victimless crime, and an easy way to lower their technology spending. "If they need another computer, most businesses don't steal one off a truck," Kruger said.
"Companies have to approach software the same way: You have to budget for it, and you have to acquire it illegally."
Common acts of piracy include downloading unlicensed software from Web sites that offer it free; copying licensed software and distributing it to unlicensed users in the workplace; or even purchasing counterfeit software packages--which sometimes come in packaging that looks like the real thing, but isn't.
Some progress has been made. The BSA software survey shows a 10 percent drop worldwide from the overall rate in 1994, when global piracy was calculated at 49 percent. Moreover, between 1994 and 2002, several countries significantly cut their piracy rates. Israel's piracy rate dropped from 78 percent to 37 percent; the United Arab Emirates' rate dropped from 86 percent to 36 percent; Ireland's improved from 74 percent to 42 percent; and Spain's dropped from 77 percent to 47 percent. (Kruger admits that the …