Compared to other Asian countries, Singapore’s software piracy rate is relatively low, but the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry group created to battle software piracy, wants to see it driven even lower.
In a boost to the BSA’s antipiracy efforts, Singapore’s police earlier this year raided an interior design company, PDM International, that was later convicted in court and fined for using pirated software. Bringing that landmark case to a close, PDM International last week reached a civil settlement with the BSA.
Tarun Sawney, director of the BSA’s antipiracy activities in Asia-Pacific, is a former police officer charged with leading the group’s fight against software pirates. He recently sat down with IDG News Service at the BSA’s Singapore office to discuss the problem of software piracy in the region and the need for continued tough enforcement by police.
IDG News Service: How bad is the software piracy situation in Singapore?
Tarun Sawney: That depends. Do you see Singapore as a first-world nation or a typical Asian nation? If you measure it by Asian standards, the piracy rate here is 40 percent while the average for Asia is 54 percent. It’s significantly less. So, you’d say that’s pretty good; it’s below the regional average.
But if you compare Singapore to Japan, the piracy rate in Japan is 28 percent, significantly less than the 40 percent over here. In Australia, it’s 31 percent. In New Zealand, it’s 23 percent—almost half the rate over here. Yes, the piracy rate in Singapore is low by Asian standards, but compared to other developed nations it’s fairly high.
IDG: Has Singapore’s toughened Copyright Act, enacted last year, helped cut down on software piracy?
Sawney: Credit where it’s due. This law has definitely had an impact. The piracy rate in Singapore was 43 percent in 2003; now it’s 40 percent. … We believe that’s down due to the law. The police so far have had just one high-profile case, and it’s had some impact, we believe, on the piracy rate. So, yes, the law has begun to have an impact. There’s no doubt about that.
For the impact to be more broad-based, there have to be more police actions. It’s got to constantly be in the media, people reading about it. The biggest challenge that we face is changing the mind-set. There’s a perception that it’s OK, these are rich companies; it’s not harming anybody. The fact is these people are breaking a criminal law.
IDG: Do you see police actions, such as the PDM International case, serving an educational purpose?
Sawney: My background is in law enforcement. I used to be a policeman in England, and then I was a policeman in Hong Kong. As any law enforcement person will tell you, you can have the best laws in place, but until you have accountability—that people feel if they do something wrong, there is a good chance they’re going to get caught—only then will you start to change behavior.
Will we ever get to zero piracy? Of course not. There will always be some people who flout the law. But that’s the thing. The majority of companies—the vast majority—are law abiding. But no matter what we do, there will always be that minority in Singapore and elsewhere that thinks they can get away with it.
IDG: How has the nature of piracy changed in Asia? Are pirated discs still the main source of pirated software, or has this mostly shifted to the Internet now?
Sawney: We did a survey on the Internet and we found that the two most popular ways of downloading in Asia are BitTorrent and eDonkey. We found that eDonkey is popular because it’s so darn easy to use … and BitTorrent is so efficient, in terms of being able to get stuff.
There will always be a market for the discs, no matter what’s available on the Internet. It will always be there. But you’re right. We’ve certainly seen a shift to the Internet, becoming more and more the avenue for people to get their hands on software. The interesting thing that we found from our research in the U.S. was that most people will not download software if they felt there was a danger their computers would be damaged as a result, through downloading Trojans or viruses. That’s a reason we feel there will always be a market for discs.
IDG: What do you think are the long-term prospects here? Will Singapore’s software piracy rate come down over time?
Sawney: Absolutely. We’re very confident, provided that we keep our messaging in the public eye and the police continue to do what they do, taking action.
-Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service (Singapore Bureau)
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