At least 57% of computer users  globally admit they have acquired pirated software, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has reported in the 2011 BSA Global Software Piracy Study.

Some users say they pirate all or most of the time. Others say they do it occasionally or rarely. The net effect was to fuel a software piracy rate of 35% last year in South Africa, meaning more than one out of three programs that users installed were unlicensed. The commercial value of this piracy was R4,36-billion ($564-million).

“If 57% of consumers admitted they shoplift — even rarely —authorities would react by increasing police patrols and penalties. Software piracy demands a similar response: concerted public education and vigorous law enforcement,” says Drummond Simpson, chairman of the BSA South African Committee.

31percent of admitted software pirates in globally surveyed in the study say they acquire software illegally “all of the time”, “most of the time” or “occasionally” while 26 percent say they do so only “rarely.” The study also found that admitted software pirates globally are predominantly males and between the ages of 25 and 34.

“Software piracy persists as a drain on the global economy, IT innovation and job creation,” says BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman. “Governments must take steps to modernize their IP laws and expand enforcement efforts to ensure that those who pirate software face real consequences.”

Globally, the study finds that piracy rates in emerging markets tower over those in mature markets — 68% to 24%, on average — and emerging markets account for an overwhelming majority of the global increase in the commercial value of software theft. This helps explain the market dynamics behind the global software piracy rate, which hovered at 42% in 2011 while a steadily expanding marketplace in the developing world drove the commercial value of software theft to R490,58-billion ($63,4-billion).

Other findings from this year’s BSA Global Software Piracy Study include:

* Globally, the most frequent software pirates are disproportionately young and male — and they are more than twice as likely to live in an emerging economy as they are to live in a mature one (38% to 15%).

* Business decision makers admit to pirating software more frequently than other users — and they are more than twice as likely as others to say they buy software for one computer and then install it on additional machines in their offices.

* Globally, there is strong support for IP rights and protections in principle, but a troubling lack of incentive for pirates to change their behavior in practice. Just 20% of frequent pirates in mature markets — and 15% in emerging markets — say the risk of getting caught is a reason not to pirate software.

This is the ninth annual study of global software piracy conducted by BSA in partnership with IDC and Ipsos Public Affairs, two of the world’s leading independent research firms. The study methodology involves collecting 182 discrete data inputs and assessing PC and software trends in 116 markets. This year’s study also included a survey of 15,000 computer users in 33 countries that together constitute 82 percent of the global PC market.