Anti-piracy laws could reap billions

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A new IDC study has lent force to arguments for stronger legislation against software piracy, suggesting reducing illegal use will reap billions for Australia's IT industry.

The Business Software Association of Australia (BSAA) has released IDC research that suggests cutting software piracy by 10 per cent could boost Australia's $20 billion IT industry to $35 billion by 2006.

Jim Macnamara, chairman of the BSAA, the Australian chapter of US-based anti-piracy group Business Software Association, said increased civil or criminal remedies are needed if software piracy is to be reduced.

“To do that, we need increased copyright protection through civil and criminal legal remedies. Either the police have to be given some resources to chase these breaches or civil remedies must be strengthened,” he said.

The BSAA-sponsored IDC study suggests 40 per cent of all software used globally is pirated. The BSAA believes that illegal copying and use of business software costs the software industry in Australia around $200 million a year

Macnamara said that even if an Australian software developer could afford to pursue piracy in the courts, the largest award ever given in this country for breach of copyright was $9,500.

“It's totally inadequate. In 90 per cent of civil cases, the damages are less than the cost of bringing the case to court. Everybody says 'who cares about Microsoft?' but the irony is that the big multinationals are the only ones who can afford to defend copyright,” Macnamara said.

“I'm a local developer. And I can't bring a case because it would cost me my house,” he said.

Determining ownership of copyright could be made easier, and courtroom guides to appropriate damages could be produced. “Right now, sueing someone for breach of software copyright requires the production of very large amounts of evidence, including affidavits from original programmers,” Macnamara said. “Other countries, such as Canada, have statutory damages.”

The BSAA is examining recently-proposed amendments to the Copyright Act 1968, supported in the Senate by the Democrats in early April.

“There are some things good [about the new legislation] and some things we are not so sure about yet,” Macnamara said. A BSAA statement regarding the new legislation would be released soon, he added.

According to the IDC study, a 10 per cent reduction in piracy in Australia would boost the local industry by $5 billion, create 7,000 new jobs and generate $A 728 million in tax revenues. Reducing the piracy rate to 30 per cent globally would create 1.5 million jobs and increase economic growth by US$400 billion, the report said.

“People think it's all about multinationals but a very significant part of it flows through local developers, and from them to services, taxes, other industries and so on. This affects everyone,” he said.

Chris Fell, MD of IDC Research in Australia and New Zealand, said that even a five per cent reduction in software piracy would increase economic activity flowing to local channel partners and service firms from software sales.

“Using the figures BSAA gave us to work with, it's a modest estimate. The true impact is likely to be higher,” Fell said.

“The whole point of this study was to demonstrate the economic impact and on the local software industry as well. Yet there is a kind of catalytic effect on integrators and services, all the way down the line,” he said.

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