The software industry is being robbed blind. That is the main conclusion I draw from the newly released 2010 BSA Global Software Piracy Study, which is available with a rich, interactive presentation of the latest data at www.bsa.org/globalstudy.
Theft of software for personal computers leapt 14 percent around the world last year to a new record of $59 billion -- an amount that has nearly doubled in real terms since 2003. It's truly stunning to think about: For every dollar of legal PC software sales, another 62 cents worth of products are being stolen.
Emerging economies like China, Indonesia, and Russia are the driving forces behind the trend, as the chart on the right shows, because those high-piracy markets are also the places where PC shipments are growing the fastest. In fact, last year was a landmark year in that regard: For the first time, the number of PCs shipped to emerging economies accounted for more than half of the world total. Yet paid software licenses in emerging economies accounted for less than 20 percent of global sales.
The irony is that people everywhere value intellectual property rights, according to surveys of approximately 15,000 PC users in 32 countries, which were conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs as part of this year's Global Software Piracy Study. As I noted here last week, 71 percent of the world's PC users think innovators should be paid for the products and technologies they develop, because it provides incentives for more technology advances. Strong majorities also see clear economic benefits from IP rights and protections: For example, 59 percent think IP rights benefit local economies, and 61 percent think they create jobs.
On top of that widespread support for IP rights, eight out of 10 PC users around the world say legal software is better than pirated because it is more reliable and secure. But a striking finding is that too many people do not understand they are getting their software illegally.
The most common form of software piracy, our surveys found, is buying a single license for a program and then installing it on multiple computers. In an enterprise setting, that can quickly turn into hundreds or even thousands of illegal copies. Yet a stunning 51 percent of business decision-makers in emerging economies incorrectly believe the practice is legal in offices.
The global piracy rate for PC software dropped by a single point in 2010 to 42 percent. That remains the second-highest global piracy rate we have seen since partnering with the leading market-research firm IDC in 2003 to conduct these annual studies of software piracy.
Regional piracy rates rose by 1 percentage point in Asia-Pacific and Latin America in 2010, even though many countries in both of those parts of the world managed to cut their national piracy rates by a percentage point or two. That is happening because of the growing influence of big, rapidly growing countries with higher-than-average piracy rates.
A short video featuring John Gantz of IDC and Trent Ross of Ipsos delves into all these trends. It is well worth watching.
It is important to remember that software piracy is an urgent problem not just for the software industry but for the whole economy, because software is an essential tool of production. Businesses of all sorts rely on software to run their operations, so properly licensed companies are being unfairly undercut when their competitors avoid overhead costs by stealing software tools. That depresses legitimate product sales and imperils job creation.
The software industry is doing all it can to promote legal software use through public-education campaigns, software asset management programs for IT professionals, and other means. Now we need governments around the world to bring greater focus to the issue of software theft by stepping up their support for public education, enacting and vigorously enforcing strong IP laws, and leading by example.
There is more on BSA's Blueprint for Reducing Software Piracy in the back of the white paper that accompanies this year's study. You will find that, too, at www.bsa.org/globalstudy.
This post was also featured on the Business Software Alliance's blog, BSA TechPost. The Business Software Alliance is a trade group that represents software makers against copyright infringement.
Follow Robert Holleyman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@RHolleyman