Booming PC use in developing countries has driven the market value of pirated software to record levels, an annual IDC study for the Business Software Alliance (BSA) industry lobby group has claimed.
The percentage of pirated programs stood at 42 percent across the 116 countries looked at in the 2010 Piracy Study, a drop of 1 percentage point from the previous year's figures. But the market value of this pirated software, at US$58.8 billion, rose 14 percent on 2009, the organization said, compared to the $95 billion spent on PC software globally. As in previous studies by the BSA, poor countries pirate more, rich countries markedly less.
Heading the piracy list were Georgia (93 percent), Zimbabwe (91 percent), Bangladesh and Moldova (both 90 percent), with long list of poor and developing nations not far behind with piracy levels of 80 percent or more. China, a common target for antipiracy complaints, registered 78 percent.
The lowest piracy rates were all in developed countries, headed by the U.S., Japan and Luxembourg (all on 20 percent), just ahead of a number of similarly rich countries, including New Zealand (22 percent), Australia (24 percent), and Germany and the U.K. (both 27 percent).
Although this division between developed and developing countries came as no surprise, it mattered hugely to the future of the software industry, the BSA said. Of the 1.4 billion PCs in the world, almost half now sit in developing economies with high piracy rates, which explained why the proportion of piracy carried out in emerging economies had grown from under a third to more than half in only six years.
"The market is being driven by emerging countries, which also have higher piracy rates," said Julian Swan, the BSA's EMEA compliance marketing director. "But it is the high-piracy countries that are now the engine of the software industry."
If allowed to carry on unchecked, the software industry would find itself relying on the base of legal software use in developed countries even as these countries accounted for a smaller and smaller proportion of the total PC market.
The most common reason for illegal software use in developing countries was the habit of buying a licensed copy of a software program and then installing it on multiple computers -- according to the BSA, 51 percent of decision makers in developing-world enterprises believed such a practice was legal.
The BSA report makes a number of suggestions for battling piracy, including offering governments in poor countries cheap, bulk licenses in order to set a good example, and persuading PC makers to pre-install licensed software before machines are purchased.
The BSA also commissioned a separate opinion survey of users in 32 countries, which uncovered what it said were widespread misconceptions about software licensing.
Although 81 percent of respondents in all countries valued legal software highly, many users in developing countries believed that it was still legal to install multiple copies of a program from only once license.
"What it interesting is the level of ignorance about piracy," said Swan. "A lot of piracy is negligence rather than deliberate wrongdoing."
The full 2010 Piracy Study, including detailed country and regional breakdowns, can be downloaded from the BSA web site.
The BSA is a global industry body set up to campaign for the interests of its members, which include Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and Symantec as well as a range of smaller independent software vendors.