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Phuket Tech Talk: The morality of piracy

Bill Gates once famously said, “As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours.” And steal they certainly do.

By Byron Noel

Thursday 17 April 2014, 03:46PM

It is no secret that Microsoft software remains some of the most pirated on the planet, with their current “Keeping It Real” anti-piracy campaign a testament to how badly they want us to pay for their software.

Recent articles in British newspapers the Daily Mail and the Guardian highlighted the dangers of using pirated software, including the addition of ‘backdoors’ that can be used to access sensitive data such as e-mails and banking details.

Let’s for a moment ignore the claims that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States already has such ‘backdoors’ available in a host of software, and assume, for argument's sake, that it’s only ‘hackers’ who are doing the looking. Yes, this could potentially be a massive problem for a business or individual, but sometimes you have to take the risk when there is no other choice.

I can hear many of you scoffing already and saying something about, “How it is your choice to use pirated software or not”. While this is true I think one needs to look a little deeper into the social and economic aspects surrounding much of the worlds’ piracy.

Let’s make a quick comparison between the USA and Thailand. The lowest paid American teachers earn around US$2,500 to US$3,000 (B81,000 – B97,000) per month, with Windows 8.1 going for around US$100 (B3,200). That equals around 3 to 5 per cent of a month’s salary.

The average Thai teacher is earning around B7,000 to B12,000, with Windows 8.1 costing about 25 to 42 per cent of their salary. Quite a difference indeed.

Laguna Golf Phuket

I am not advocating piracy, but perhaps now we can understand a little better why piracy is so big in developing economies. Microsoft has done a good job making sure that it remains the ‘go-to’ software, but the same argument can be applied to many other companies.

How can one expect the businesses and individuals of developing nations to compete with their Western counterparts when there is such a stark difference in relative costs?

Do these countries deserve to be at a disadvantage simply because they are poorer than the developed nations? This is where the question of immoral vs illegal comes into play.

Sure, it is illegal to pirate this software, but is it morally right for the software companies to expect that much poorer countries pay the same price? (This question is somewhat being addresses by the Apache OpenOffice open source project, but that’s another story for a different time).

The world is not the same all over, so we cannot expect the same from all markets. Yes, there will always be people who want it all for free, but the software companies have to come to the party and figure out a better pricing and sales model for developing nations.

It’s time for Western software companies to get real and better integrate themselves into developing markets before they lose out to the next generation. Now, let’s see what the DVD booth at the market has this week…



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