09/07/2011 03:04 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2011

Inside a $59 Billion Heist: The Contradictory Opinions and Behaviors of the World's Software Pirates

Earlier this year, BSA reported in its annual Global Software Piracy Study that the commercial value of PC software theft leapt 14 percent worldwide in 2010 to $59 billion. Behind all that theft, of course, were millions and millions of computer users installing unlicensed software in homes, businesses, government agencies, and other enterprises.

What were they thinking?

In the past, we haven't known very much about them. But now, thanks to the most extensive research effort ever undertaken on the subjects of software piracy and intellectual property rights, we do.

BSA commissioned Ipsos Public Affairs to survey roughly 15,000 PC users in 32 countries. Ipsos conducted between 400 and 500 interviews per country, in person and online. Today, based on the findings from those surveys, we are releasing an in-depth analysis of the attitudes and behaviors of the world's software pirates.

Click here to download the white paper. (PDF)

The conclusions are striking:
  • Nearly half of the world's computer users (47 percent) acquire their software by illegal means most or all of the time, even though more than seven in 10 (71 percent) profess support for intellectual property rights and protections.
  • In developing countries, the figures are even higher. In China, for example, 86 percent of PC users are regular software pirates. In Nigeria, it is 81 percent. In Vietnam, it is 76 percent.
  • Business decision-makers are just as likely to be pirates as other PC users, which is troubling because enterprise settings account for a disproportionate share of the dollar value of global software piracy.
  • Many of the world's software pirates may not even realize they are breaking the law and betraying their own principles, which underscores the importance of concerted public-education and enforcement campaigns.

The survey makes it clear that the global software piracy epidemic is spreading fastest in China, which is now the world's biggest market for new PCs. The 86 percent of computer users in China who are regular software pirates accounted for approximately 206 million PCs last year. That was twice as many pirate PCs as were running in the second-placed United States, even though America still had 40 percent more PCs in use overall -- and it was an astounding seven times as many as were running in third-place Brazil.

Taken together, the survey data paint a statistical portrait of today's archetypal software pirate: He is likely to be an 18- to 34-year-old man who lives in China, works at a company with less than 100 employees, and uses a computer in his job. In his attitudes and behaviors toward intellectual property rights and software, he is a walking contradiction, supporting IP principles and preferring legal software in theory, yet getting most of his software illegally because he doesn't understand what's okay and what isn't. He also appears to be affected by his surroundings. For example, he believes software piracy is commonplace, and he thinks it is unlikely people who steal software will be caught.

It is shocking that nearly half the world's PC users are regular software pirates. But it is also encouraging that most regular pirates acquire their software legally at least some of the time, because it suggests they can be persuaded to do it consistently.

Never before have we had such clear and convincing evidence of the need for industry and governments to redouble their public-education efforts and send stronger deterrent signals to the marketplace with vigorous enforcement of IP laws.

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.