Piracy becoming uncool. Yeah right.

Microsoft's Brett Roberts might believe software piracy is becoming less "cool" with young people, but at least one software engineer at a meeting Roberts addressed last has his doubts.

Microsoft’s Brett Roberts might believe software piracy is becoming less “cool” with young people, but at least one software engineer at a meeting Roberts addressed last has his doubts.

Roberts, Microsoft's Auckland-based general manager of small business, was speaking at a meeting to discuss intellectual property protection at Unlimited Potential, a professional and social association for young IT practitioners.

He said software piracy is becoming less “cool” with young people due to anti-piracy education and promotion. He also said the shift may bring down the incidence of offences which vendor groups insist cost billions of dollars a year worldwide.

Piracy used to be seen as acceptable, as drinking and driving once was, he says, but like drink-driving, young people are now recognising the harm it does.

This applies to the people growing up with IT now, Roberts says. “The ‘generation’ between the ages of about 15 and 25 [which would encompass most people at the meeting] we’ve probably lost.”

However, software engineer and Unlimited Potential committee member Trent Mankelow says the perception of such a trend may be wishful thinking.

“Although groups like RIANZ [the Recording Industry Association] are targeting the younger kids with their BRN & GT BRNT ["Burn and Get Burnt"] campaign, I really don't think that it is becoming socially unacceptable to the younger generation to pirate software, movies, and music,” Mankelow says.

He says it is easier to do, especially in areas where broadband makes Kazaa and other P2P programs “a very easy way for people to get their hands on just about anything”.

The prevalence and low cost of CD burners means it is even easy for those without fast internet to get pirated materials.

“Having said that, after coming from [university], where prohibitive costs meant that just about every student had some sort of illegal software, I have noticed that more people are taking up the chance to come clean now that they are out working. With a bit more money in their pockets, and an acknowledgment that they've had a free ride for the last few years, people are starting to purchase software.

However, he says music another matter.

“People view digital music as a revolution. Remember, record companies weren't happy about radio when that came out either.”

PC World columnist Geoff Palmer questioned the figures on piracy submitted by vendor representatives because they had never been “peer reviewed” as objective evidence should be.

“I’m not saying there’s no piracy, but does it lose as much as [industry associations] claim?”

“I have done some investigation of my own,” he says, facetiously, “and the cost of piracy according to my figures is $12.32. Prove me wrong.”

More seriously, he says this year to date there had been 44 successful court actions worldwide reflecting a total $US3.3m value. Last year the figure was about $US2 million.

“This represents 0.13% of the piracy they claim is going on," Palmer says. "Can they only get back this much?” he asks; or perhaps it is the total alleged figure that is suspect.

Roberts argued that the high price of major-vendor software, often cited as a motivator for piracy, is not a factor. “People pirate shareware,” he notes. “How many people pay for WinZip?”

Palmer says, however, that there might be a connection between the high rate of piracy in third-world countries (allegedly 97% in Vietnam) and the fact that an individual licence for a substantial piece of software there, priced on an official exchange rate, could amount to several months’ wages.

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