Software piracy hits record high of $59 billion

Global software piracy has nearly doubled since 2003, according to a study from the Business Software Association, and emerging markets account for the majority of the problem.

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Don Reisinger
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The Business Software Alliance highlights areas of piracy. BSA

Global software piracy reached a record figure of $59 billion last year, a new study from the Business Software Alliance has found.

That figure represents a 14 percent increase compared with 2009 and a doubling since 2003, the trade group said today. Forty-two percent of PC software was pirated worldwide last year, the group added, down one point from the previous year.

"The software industry is being robbed blind," BSA CEO Robert Holleyman said in a statement. "Nearly $59 billion worth of products were stolen last year--and the rates of theft are completely out of control in the world's fastest-growing markets."

The Business Software Alliance operates on behalf of the software industry. Its members include Adobe Systems, Apple, Microsoft, and Symantec.

Emerging markets are the most troublesome for software makers, with the majority of all software piracy--$32 billion worth--occurring in those markets. In 2010, the BSA said, 50 percent of all PCs shipped around the world went to emerging markets. However, less than 20 percent of all paid software license revenue came from those areas.

Central/Eastern Europe and Latin America had the highest piracy rates, hitting 64 percent each in BSA's study. The Asia-Pacific region saw piracy rates jump one point to 60 percent in 2010. North America had the lowest piracy rate at 21 percent.

Though software piracy is rampant, the BSA found that not everyone knows they're committing a crime. About 60 percent of people believe buying a single software license and installing it on multiple computers--the most common form of piracy--is legal in the home. BSA said 47 percent also believe that engaging in such activity is legal in the workplace.

"The irony is people everywhere value intellectual property rights. But in many cases they don't understand they are getting their software illegally," Holleyman said in a statement.

Holleyman added that governments need to do more to help.

"The software industry is doing everything it can to promote legal software use," he said. "We need governments to step up their efforts on this issue by supporting public education efforts, enacting and enforcing strong intellectual property laws, and leading by example."