Argentina's Congress is hurriedly considering new legislation to bring the South American country's copyright law into line with the international community.
Meanwhile, the Software Publishers Association (SPA) is advocating a wait-and-see approach to dealing with the Argentine Supreme Court's recent ruling that software piracy is not a crime.
"Obviously we're disappointed, but we're not shocked by the ruling," said Rodolfo Orjales, director of Latin American piracy for the SPA.
According to Orjales, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision reversing the copyright infringement conviction of an Argentine company found to using illegal copies of software programs because Argentine copyright laws, written in 1933, do not specifically include software by name. Thus, the court found that software cannot be protected under the copyright laws.
Immediately responding, Argentina's Diputados, the lower house, rushed through revised legislation taking software into account. The bill is now before Senate. President Carlos Menem and his Justice minister, Raul Granillo Ocampo, have declared the issue a top domestic priority, and chances of passage are said to be good, reported Clarín, an Argentine daily.
The SPA is actively encouraging Argentina's congress to pass the copyright bill, Orjales said, and also conducting symposiums for judges to educate them about the intricacies of software piracy. According to a 1997 Price Waterhouse study, 70 percent of the computer programs in existence in Argentina are pirated, accounting for over $160 million a year.
The SPA is not encouraging its member companies to discontinue their business in Argentina but is suggesting that all software firms that do business in Latin America register their trademarks and copyrights localy and in neighboring countries like Brazil.
"We suggest that they join in efforts to educate and put pressure on the Argentine congress," Orjales added.
Should the legislation fail, the SPA will lobby the U.S. Trade Representative's office to impose trade sanctions on Argentina, he said.
Orjales noted that the Argentine Supreme Court has taken over two years to decide the case, and the delay has encouraged a culture of piracy in Argentina that extends to government agencies who use illegal copies of software for government business.
Bizarre as the decision may seem, only ten years ago software was not viewed as copyrightable even in the United States. "Argentina is not unique," Orjales said. "People think, 'Hey, Bill Gates is a billionaire. What difference does it make if we copy some software?' What they don't understand is that whenever piracy takes place, the government doesn't collect taxes on it, and that has a direct impact on the average citizen."