Canadian software makers say a recent global survey indicating piracy in the country is on the decline proves that beefing up intellectual property theft laws does help.
A professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, however, believes software makers are just “beating the drum to generate hysteria” and suggests the numbers could mean that current laws are adequate. Other people could see it as beating the drum to generate hysteriaElijah Dann>Text
A worldwide study by research firm IDC Canada Ltd. found that Canada’s piracy rate went down three percentage points from 36 to 33 per cent in 2005, falling below the world piracy rate of 35 per cent.
Losses suffered by Canadian businesses due to software piracy dropped last year by more than $166 million compared to 2004, while worldwide losses shot up by $752 million, according to the survey released by the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) – an organization of software makers – and its U.S. affiliate Business Software Alliance (BSA).
“Canada’s lower piracy rate, as with other countries, can be attributed to high PC market growth, continued enforcement and a major increase in branded laptops replacing desktops made by local assemblers, ” according to John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.
“I think we still have a long way to go. We should look upon countries such as the U.S. and Austria, which have tougher software piracy laws, as role models,” according to Diana Piquet, anti-piracy manager at Microsoft Canada Inc., and director of CAAST.
“Other people could see it as beating the drum to generate hysteria,” said Elijah Dann, adjunct professor in the department of philosophy at the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
“Why do we need tougher laws – so they [software makers] can get back every penny they lost? If the companies can take such huge losses and continue operating, how much profit are they making?” Dann asked.
“Even if they’re accurate, it could actually mean current laws are adequate and working. Before we develop stronger laws, we should investigate deeper.”
Dann questioned whether the decline in piracy here could be attributed to tougher legislation or other factors. “Perhaps more businesses are complying [with anti-piracy laws] after realizing piracy is not working for them. Maybe there’s less theft because the market is saturated with software that comes pre-installed with PCs or open sourced.”
Lisa Abe, technology expert and senior partner at the Toronto-based law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP., agrees that current copyright laws are working but said they need to be updated.
“Our copyright laws are good, but we have to make sure the charter is able to deal with constantly evolving technologies,” said Abe.
For instance, she said, nano technology, quantum computing and software swapping in shared communities over the Internet is “one large gray area.”
While there’s been a decline in piracy in Canada, the global situation is more dismal.
The Canadian economy lost $943 million in 2005 compared to $1.109 billion the previous year, according to the CAAST study. “However, more than one out of every three copies of PC software put into use in Canada in 2005 was still obtained illegally,” said Jacquie Famulak, CAAST president.
The study said piracy rates decreased moderately in 51 of the 97 countries surveyed and increased in only 19. The four countries with the largest percentage drop were China, Russia and Morocco, which all had a four point drop and Ukraine which had a six point drop.
The countries with the highest piracy rates were Vietnam and Zimbabwe (90 per cent) Indonesia (87 per cent) China and Pakistan (both 86 per cent).
Countries with the lowest piracy rates were the U.S. (21 per cent), New Zealand (23 per cent) and Austria and Finland (26 per cent).
In countries with very large software markets, even a low piracy rate could amount to huge loses. The U.S. posted the greatest loss at $8.3 billion, followed by China at $4.7 billion and France at $3.8 billion.
High piracy rates tend to drive away business investments, said John Payes, director for strategic alliances at Nakisa Inc., a management software maker in Montreal.
“You have to look for the right business environment. I would think twice about setting up shop or investing in a country with a high piracy rate,” he said.
Dann said the survey was not clear on what kind of piracy is taking place.
“Were the thefts being done by groups copying software for profit or did the study include students and grandmas downloading and sharing software because they can’t afford to buy it or didn’t know any better?”
“When you talk about tougher laws and penalties you have to take into account who they apply to. You have to be careful about not mixing apples and oranges,” Dann said.
He said the issue is more complicated than just a group of companies calling on government to enforce tougher laws.
“I would like to see more open dialogue about the matter.”