S'pore IT mall lauds success in antipiracy efforts

update Sim Lim Square collaborates with Microsoft to educate shoppers on "high-end counterfeits"; says own scheme helped lower software piracy.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--Microsoft's local office has formed a new collaboration with local IT mall, Sim Lim Square, to build upon the mall's ongoing efforts to lower software piracy by promoting genuine software and offering incentives to adhering retailers.

At a media briefing here Wednesday, Joe Poon, Microsoft Singapore's OEM (original equipment manufacturer) director, noted that Singapore has one of the lowest piracy rates in the Asia-Pacific region, at 36 percent, in 2008.

Comparatively, Bangladesh (92 percent), Sri Lanka (90 percent), China (80 percent), Indonesia (85 percent) and Vietnam (85 percent) were markets that had some of the region's highest piracy rates, according to a Business Software Alliance survey released in 2009.

In spite of Singapore's lower piracy rate, the local IT industry still suffered US$163 million of losses due to software piracy.

"These days, the game has changed and it is really difficult to tell the difference between genuine and pirated, or high-end counterfeit software," said Poon. "That is why Microsoft has to run doubly hard to stay ahead of the pirates."

It was only after it initiated a possible collaboration with Sim Lim Square that Microsoft discoverd the IT mall had already been running a scheme advocating good business practices for a pleasant shopping experience, Poon revealed.

Mall claims antipiracy success
The scheme, known as the STARetailer program, was started almost six years ago, according to Chan Kok Hong, managing director of CKH Strata Management, the organization that manages Sim Lim Square. He added that the mall currently sets aside S$200,000 (US$140,840) a year to provide advertising and marketing support such as booklets and pamphlets, highlighting the qualifying "star retailers".

Among the criteria for participating in the program, retailers must have a nine-month no-complaint track record as well as sign an agreement with the mall that it would adopt fair-trade practices, said H. D. Gupta, director of Goldkist International--the largest landlord in the mall with 40 shops under its name. In return, retailers in the program are given an official STARetailer logo that they can display on the floor in front of their shops, and pay lower rates for spots in the mall's advertising collaterals such as fullpage ads, Gupta explained.

Asked how the STARetailer scheme has helped fight piracy, Chan said: "If a shopper unknowingly buys a pirated product, we will help pursue the matter by referring [them] to the relevant authorities."

For example, tourists will be referred to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to help recoup their loss "before their stay in Singapore is over", and local residents can look to the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE). A dedicated customer service manager was also hired three years ago to mediate disputes, the executive noted.

"Many times, people have no idea who or where to lodge their complaints, and what we have done is to make this process more accessible," Chan said.

Gupta pointed out that, currently, 93 percent of the 500-plus shops in Sim Lim Square have had no complaints lodged against them in 2009. Of the remaining retailers, 3 percent received 84 percent of the 190 complaints lodged last year.

He added that rogue retailers will be delisted from the program and, in serious cases, be asked to vacate their premises due to a "breach in contract". Delisted retailers are also not allowed to participate in the mall's advertising activities.

That said, Chan noted that the success rate of stamping out piracy in the mall stood at almost 98 percent. "[Pirated software] cannot be found even [in the] underground [market] as retailers no longer keep such copies around. It's gone from Sim Lim," he declared.

This was a contrast from just 10 years ago, where pirated software was openly displayed and sold at retail outlets in Sim Lim Square, he added.

However, Chan noted that while the incidence of piracy is currently low, he still wants to "nip it in the bud" by collaborating with Microsoft.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines, Microsoft's Poon said the software vendor is building on Sim Lim Square's broader approach by educating shoppers on buying genuine software. To this end, the software vendor is handing out pamphlets at the mall to teach buyers how to differentiate between real and counterfeit software.

Under Microsoft's Genuine Software Advocate (GSA) banner, the program also certifies genuine retailers so that they can be easily identified. "We have run this program for the past one-and-a-half years, with 19 retailers currently signed up to the scheme, and we hope to continue this and bring more companies into the fold," he said.

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