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Software piracy is still rampant in Malta - report

Increased cooperation between governments, and with industry, would be beneficial to combat software piracy.

Increased cooperation between governments, and with industry, would be beneficial to combat software piracy.

Software piracy in Malta stands at around 46 per cent, and ranks fifth among western European countries, according to the latest survey by the Business Software Alliance. This is above the global average, which has risen in recent years.

The Global Software Piracy Study 2007, published by the BSA and consultants IDC, revealed that the total worldwide piracy rate stood at 38 per cent, up from 35 per cent in 2006. The losses were estimated at $47.809 billion, up from $39.698 billion the previous year.

The major culprits are central and eastern Europe (68 per cent), Latin America (65 per cent) and the Middle East and Africa (60 per cent). The only regions where a decrease was registered were North America (21 per cent), western Europe (33 per cent) and the European Union (35 per cent), where the rate is actually the lowest in the world.

Among western European countries, Greece topped the list with 58 per cent, followed by Cyprus, Iceland and Italy. Malta is 11 points above the EU average of 35 per cent. In the early 1990s, the percentage of pirated software was estimated as high as 90 per cent by the BSA.

The Washington-based organisation is a non-profit trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners and is the foremost body dedicated to promoting a safe and legal digital world.

In comments published in the latest edition of Welcome, the academic journal of the Maltese Institute of Tourism Studies, the BSA warned about the impact of software piracy on the Maltese economy.

"This high piracy level will have a huge impact on the Maltese economy, job creation, and tax income, as local services and support industries are potentially missing out on an extensive market," Natasha Jane, communications manager for compliance marketing (EMEA) at the BSA, warned.

"Malta's piracy level is eight percentage points above the worldwide average, and 13 percentage points above the western-European average, so there is still lots to do in order to tackle piracy."

The BSA warns that users must consider the risks of downloading unauthorised software onto computers. An IDC study found that software acquired illegally has a one in two chance of containing additional code, such as Trojans, viruses, or spyware. This could cause a variety of operational and security threats, from data loss and file corruption, to system failure.

The BSA has an active internet program that identifies unlicensed software being offered on the internet, and provides evidence to internet service providers and file hosting sites, requesting the removal of the infringed product.

The BSA believes that broadband internet access definitely makes an impact on piracy.

"As the ways and means of accessing unlicensed software becomes easier, the usage is likely to increase. In addition, because this type of piracy is done through a computer, it feels more anonymous for users, a faceless crime, not viewed the same as going into a shop and stealing a software package off the shelf - although the outcome, infringing the copyright of intellectual property, is the same," according to Ms Jane.

The OECD report The Economic Impact of Counterfeiting and Piracy released in 2007, estimates that international trade in counterfeit and pirated products could have been up to $200 billion in 2005.

This figure is higher than the national GDPs of about 150 economies and this total does not include domestically produced and consumed counterfeit and pirated products and the significant volume of pirated digital products being distributed via the internet.

If these items were added, the total magnitude of counterfeiting and piracy worldwide could well be several hundred billion dollars more.

"Counterfeiting and piracy are illicit businesses in which criminal networks thrive. The magnitude and effects of counterfeiting and piracy are of such significance that they compel strong and sustained action from governments, business and consumers. More effective enforcement is critical, as is the need to build public support to combat the counterfeiting and piracy. Increased cooperation between governments, and with industry, would be beneficial, as would better data collection," the OECD report insisted.

One of the most important steps taken to combat piracy in Malta involved direct action from the Maltese government and Microsoft, which has around 90 per cent of the market for operating systems (Windows) and office productivity tools (Office).

The vertical strategic alliance between the two entities made sure that this software, which cost hundreds of liri at the time if bought in stores, was offered at a nominal price, flooding the Maltese market with genuine software.

This also happened at a time when Microsoft was also tightening its control over pirated software through registration and activation features in Windows. It was easier and quicker to obtain this original and genuine package at a nominal price rather than attempt to download the software from questionable websites or peer-to-peer internet networks, riddled with viruses and spyware, and hack it.

However this is not the case with other software, i-Tech can reveal. The ever-increasing internet access download limits and speeds of the Maltese internet service providers has made it easier to download illegal and counterfeit copies of popular and hard-to-find software for Windows-based computers and Mac OS. Illegal copies of movies and music accessible from foreign hosting services such as Rapidshare and Megaupload and peer-to-peer search engines like The Pirate Bay are also very popular for downloads. Local ISPs have no control over what data is accessed by their users.

The owners of The Pirate Bay were recently sentenced to prison in Sweden for copyright violation. However they are still fighting for their cause and one of them managed to get elected as a member of the European Parliament in last month's elections - proof that many internet users want such websites to exist.

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