Amid drives by governments, technology companies and legal bodies to raise awareness of the perils of using computer software illegally, South Africa’s piracy rate still stands at 36%, with some African countries topping 90%. 

That was a key message from the local arm of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry body that represents commercial software developers and their hardware partners.
The organisation’s latest report, which covers 97 countries, points to a global average of 35%, unchanged from last year’s level. This represents at least $34-billion in economic losses worldwide – calculated according to the retail value of pirated software.
South Africa’s average has decreased 1% this year, but still represents at least R1,2-billion in economic losses. The average for the African countries surveyed was over 70%, with Zimbabwe tying Vietnam as the country with the highest rate – 90%. As a whole, the Middle East and Africa region lost more than $1,6-billion to piracy last year, according to IDC.
“Software piracy remains one of the major hurdles to realising the potential of the information economy in South Africa, on the continent and, indeed, around the world,” says Stephan le Roux, the chairman of the BSA in South Africa.
“While we are upbeat that piracy levels are dropping, there is still a concern for our local economy that over a third of software in use is illegal.
“This concern rises when you look at some countries in Africa, where as few as one in 10 copies of packaged software is legitimately paid for.”
The negative economic consequences of software piracy are clear. Local software industries are crippled by competition from pirated or counterfeit goods.
Foreign direct investment by international software companies is jeopardised due to low market returns. And a lack of respect for intellectual property rights stifles the growth of the entertainment industry in general.
“Many factors contribute to regional differences in piracy – the strength of intellectual property protection, the availability of pirated software, cultural differences and IT-related market trends,” says John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC.
“There’s no doubt that lowering software piracy takes constant work and investment, but those investments can unlock enormous benefits for the industry and local economies.”
A previous IDC/BSA study showed that if the global piracy rate were to drop 10 points to 25%, it would create as many as 2,4-million new jobs, $400-billion in economic growth and $67-billion in tax revenues worldwide.
“Stronger intellectual property protection and education as well as awareness continue to improve the software piracy situation around the world,” says Le Roux.
“However, as broadband growth continues and the IT sector expands, the influx of new users and the increased availability of pirated software means efforts are required to reduce and keep software piracy down.
“The BSA offers rewards for reports that result in successful actions against people that use software illegally – we will be launching a campaign around that in the near future. We are also working with the government – in the form of the dti – on broader intellectual property-related issues.”