Nearly half the world’s PC users (47%) acquire software through illegal means most or all of the time – and in developing economies the figures are much higher, according to the most extensive survey ever undertaken on PC users’ behaviours and attitudes toward software piracy and intellectual property rights.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) released detailed findings from the groundbreaking study on its official blog, BSA TechPost. Ipsos Public Affairs conducted the research for BSA by surveying about 15 000 PC users in 32 countries. This included 400 to 500 in-person or online interviews per country.

The study finds that large majorities of computer users in the developing world regularly acquire software through illegal means – such as buying a single license for a program and then installing it on multiple machines, or downloading programs from peer-to-peer networks – even though they express support for intellectual property principles.

China had a higher percentage of these regular software pirates among its PC-using population than any other country surveyed, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam, Ukraine, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Mexico.

The study finds that significant majorities of software pirates in developing markets incorrectly believe that typically illegal means of acquiring software are, in fact, legal. At the same time, they believe software piracy is common, and they think it is unlikely that software pirates will be caught.

Critically, business decision-makers around the world exhibit behaviours and opinions that are similar to those of other computer users.

“It took hundreds of millions of thieves to steal $59-billion worth of software last year. Now we have a better understanding of what they were thinking,” says BSA president and CEO Robert Holleyman. “The evidence is clear: The way to lower software piracy is by educating businesses and individuals about what is legal — and ramping up enforcement of intellectual property laws to send clearer deterent signals to the marketplace.”

The highest percentage of habitual pirates is in China, with 42% always illegal and 44% mostly illegal. China is followed by Nigeria, Ukraine, Malaysia and Thailand as the top illegal software nations.

South Africa comes in with just 5% of PC users using illegal software all of the time and 16% using illegal software most of the time.