IT SOUNDS too bad to be true; but, then, it might not be true. Up to 35% of all PC software installed in 2004 was pirated, resulting in a staggering $33 billion loss to the industry, according to an annual study released this week by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a trade association and lobby group.
Such jaw-dropping figures are regularly cited in government documents and used to justify new laws and tough penalties for pirates-this month in Britain, for example, two people convicted of piracy got lengthy prison sentences, even though they had not sought to earn money. The BSA provided its data. The judge chose to describe the effects of piracy as nothing less than "catastrophic".
But while the losses due to software copyright violations are large and serious, the crime is certainly not as costly as the BSA portrays. The association's figures rely on sample data that may not be representative, assumptions about the average amount of software on PCs and, for some countries, guesses rather than hard data. Moreover, the figures are presented in an exaggerated way by the BSA and International Data Corporation (IDC), a research firm that conducts the study. They dubiously presume that each piece of software pirated equals a direct loss of revenue to software firms.
To derive its piracy rate, IDC estimates the average amount of software that is installed on a PC per country, using data from surveys, interviews and other studies. That figure is then reduced by the known quantity of software sold per country-a calculation in which IDC specialises. The result: a (supposed) amount of piracy per country. Multiplying that figure by the revenue from legitimate sales thus yields the retail value of the unpaid-for software. This, IDC and BSA claim, equals the amount of lost revenue.