Big Software to launch crackdown on piracy

Piracy is bad. That - with a certain amount of paraphrasing, we'll admit - is the conclusion of a new report from market analysts IDC.

Hardly surprising, given that the sponsor and co-compiler of the report is the Business Software Alliance, the international trade association representing the interests of Big Software.

According to the report, 43 per cent of software applications - more than four out of every 10 - being used around the world are unlicensed or pirated.

The effects of this all-pervasive piracy, says IDC, are far-reaching. And the benefits to tackling them immense. To whit: reducing software piracy by 10 per cent over the next four years would add around $142 billion to the global economy, create nearly 500,000 new jobs, and generate an extra $32 billion in taxes for governments around the world.

In the European Union, so the report says, a crackdown of the sort proposed in the BSA's "four-year plan" would create more than 61,000 new jobs, boost spending by business and consumers to the tune of $43 billion, and generate nearly $13 billion in tax.

The four-year plan proposes the implementation of the World Intellectual Property Association's Copyright Treaty and similar agreements from the World Trade Organisation, as well as the creation of task forces at national level to combat copyright theft.

We could let it go at that. But there's a lot the report doesn't tell you, too.

Like the fact that this supposed 'theft' is the loss of potential income. As games developer Markus Persson very eloquently argued in a blog post this week, it isn't 'theft' in a conventional sense - repeated piracy won't, for instance, leave the creator of copyright material out of pocket. It's simply the loss of potential earnings, which may or may not have been converted into folding money.

With a different approach, the unauthorised distribution of software can create actual sales, enabling the right products to get into the right hands more easily. With a wider distribution system - which, let's not forget, is free of marketing costs - even if only a small percentage of users decide to 'go legit', or take advantage of genuine benefits offered by registration, software vendors can find themselves quids-in.

But with this customer-centric, optional sort of 'try before you buy', there's more pressure on the vendor to get it right - to make software that's bug-free, and keep it that way. To add value by providing updates or additional features to registered users, giving them a real reason to invest in the product.

In short, to provide value for money. Or maybe that's what they're afraid of?

Old Software can't play King Canute forever. The prevalence of file-sharing technologies - and the ingenuity of a community hell-bent on circumventing DRM - means that big business needs to forget traditional business models, forget legislation and bullying, and work harder to turn pirates into potential customers.

The BSA's crackdown can't work. All it can do is help to stifle technologies and communities that are themselves leading to innovation. And that costs money, too.

I'll leave the final word to Persson - a man who is himself, remember, a software developer:

"Piracy will win in the long run. It has to. The alternative is too scary."