SINGAPORE--Some 63 percent of computer users in the Asia-Pacific region have admitted to acquiring pirated software, above the global average of 57 percent, according to latest numbers from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which underscores the need for a concerted response. It notes, however, it is premature for the region to adopt anti-piracy laws similar to those proposed in the United States.
In a media briefing held here Tuesday, the BSA said software piracy last year drove PC software theft in the region to a record high of nearly US$21 billion, a rise of 12 percent from 2010. Worldwide, this figure increased 8 percent to US$63.4 billion.
The statistics were part of BSA's annual Global Software Piracy Study, conducted in partnership with research firms IDC and Ipsos Public Affairs, and based on data from about 15,000 computer users in 33 countries between January and February 2012.
Roland Chan, senior director of marketing for Asia-Pacific at BSA, said: "If 63 percent of consumers admitted they shoplift, authorities would react by increasing police patrols and penalties. Software piracy demands a similar response, concerted public education and vigorous law enforcement."
Emerging markets lead in piracy
The study also collected data from over 116 markets to assess PC and software trends to measure software piracy rates. The piracy rate for Asia-Pacific in 2011 remained at 60 percent, sporting no change from the previous year. While the rate stayed the same, the value of the software theft increased to nearly US$21 billion due to the growth in absolute number of users.
Across the region, China had the "most troubling piracy problem", according to the BCA. "Its illegal software market was worth nearly US$9 billion in 2011 versus a legal market of less than US$3 billion," said Chan.
"Despite [China's] piracy rate dropping from 78 percent to 77 percent in 2011, Chinese computer users spent just US$8.89 per PC on legal software which is less than a quarter what others like Brazil, India and Russia spent," he added.
Globally, the study found that piracy rates in emerging countries--which accounted for 82 percent of the global PC market--was at 68 percent. This exceeded the 42 percent global average and 24 percent for developed markets.
The under-licensing of software continued to be a key contributor of piracy, said Victor Lim, IDC's vice president for Asia-Pacific consulting operations. "Besides damaging the IT sector and ecosystem, piracy also harms local and regional competition, and costs jobs," he added.
A 10 percentage point drop in PC software piracy rate over four years would bring US$41 billion into the Asia-Pacific economy and create 350,000 jobs, Lim said, citing research from a 2010 joint study by BSA and IDC.
Solution beyond enforcement
Chan noted that software piracy partly could be due to a lack of awareness among computer users in developing markets. "Enforcement is not the answer to all our problems," he said. "What we believe in is equally strong, or more strongly, is awareness and education."
Speaking to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the briefing, the BSA senior director said enacting tougher laws might "sound like a good idea in theory", but they may actually discourage trade.
He noted that it might not be beneficial for the region to adopt similar measures such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S., which was proposed by American lawmakers to expand the country's legal rights to fight online trafficking in copyrighted materials.
"If an online piracy legislation seeks to only be a deterrent, at the of the day, it may slow down trade," Chan said. "If I make it so difficult for business owners to prove rightful ownership, it might discourage them. We have to look at balancing between stopping piracy and discouraging local businesses."
The BSA is a non-profit trade body based in Washington, U.S., that advocates copyright protection. Its members include giant tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Symantec and Adobe.