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Pirates Prey On World's Software

Thirty-six percent of all computer software installed worldwide last year was pirated, costing the industry $29 billion in lost revenue, an industry alliance said Wednesday.

The problem is worsening, in part because of increased file-swapping over the Internet, said Jeffrey Hardee, Asian regional director for the Business Software Alliance, backed by industry giants such as Microsoft and IBM.

Detailed year-on-year comparisons are not available because the alliance has broadened its annual survey to include software on servers as well as personal computers, including local-language programs, he said. Earlier surveys looked only at business software.

Three of the top five countries with the highest incidence of pirated software were in Asia, Hardee said, naming China (92 percent), Vietnam (92 percent) and Indonesia (88 percent). The others were Ukraine (91 percent) and Russia (87 percent).

Overall, 53 percent of software installed in Asia last year was not purchased through legitimate channels, costing the software industry $7.6 billion, he said.

The worst region overall was Eastern Europe, where 71 percent of software was illegal, followed by Latin America (63 percent) and the Middle East and Africa (56 percent), the alliance said. Asia Pacific came fourth, followed by Europe, where 36 percent of installed software was pirated, it said.

The United States and Canada had the lowest estimated piracy rate at 23 percent, but accounted for significant revenue losses because of the size of their markets.

Losses in the United States alone were put at $6.5 billion — the highest single-country figure — followed by China, where piracy was said to have cost the industry $3.2 billion.

The amount of copying activity on the Internet "is astounding," Hardee said at a briefing on the survey results in Singapore.

The alliance has a "web-crawler" program that trawls the Internet searching for Web sites that facilitate or promote illegal online copying and distribution of software.

The alliance's Asian unit was sending 3,000 letters of complaint to Internet service providers, whose equipment hosted the file-swapping sites, he said.

The BSA plans to carry on lobbying governments and trying to educate consumers to get its message across, but will consider taking or supporting legal action against pirates, Hardee told The Associated Press.

"We think that enforcement is an important part of our work. But ultimately we are trying to change people's opinions, and we don't only want to be known for enforcement," Hardee said.

The recent spate of free-trade agreements signed by Asian countries — including a pact between Singapore and the United States — were a good tool to push regional governments into boosting software protection as they include clauses on intellectual property, he said.

By Jake Lloyd-Smith

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