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Soft measures
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 03 - 2006

Robert Hollyman, president of the Business Software Alliance tells Al-Ahram Weekly what it takes to bring Egypt's software piracy rates down
Have you ever doubted that the software programme you just bought might not be the real thing? This is one question, Niveen Wahish says, which the Business Software Alliance (BSA) is hoping consumers will not need to ask someday. The BSA, whose aim is to combat the currently high levels of software piracy, is a non-profit association representing leading global software companies and a number of hardware companies. A study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), a major information technology research firm assesses that in 2004, the illegal reproduction of copyrighted software programmes globally, stood at 35 per cent. In 2005 losses in the software market worldwide amounted to some $23 billion as a result of pirated software which is sold by dealers at a profit higher than drugs.
Egypt is no exception. Software piracy in the Egyptian market now stands at approximately 65 per cent. The IDC study estimates that if piracy rates in the Egyptian market were to be reduced to 55 per cent by the year 2009, this would lead to its information technology industry growing by some 91 per cent and reaching $1.1 billion worth. The surge would create 4,300 new jobs and generate $34 million in taxes, contributing some $610 million to the country's GDP.
BSA President Robert Hollyman asserts that more can be done to reduce software piracy in Egypt. Hollyman who was recently in Cairo said, "the basic framework [for combating software piracy] in Egypt is very sound." He referred to the PC Initiative launched by the government two years ago which makes personal computers available to consumers by means of instalments at relatively cheap prices. PCs come with original software.
"What hurts any national or international software company is [when consumers buy] pirated versions of their product," Hollyman says. "This is why the Egyptian government has presented a variety of initiatives to ensure that [the sale of] licensed software becomes the norm."
Hollyman says that the influx of counterfeit products coming into Egypt mostly from the Asian countries, is one factor which has prevented piracy rates from dropping. The problem is shared with other countries and "should mean a new type of border enforcement."
Piracy by corporate end- users is another problem which software companies worldwide face. "Many small and medium enterprises have not become fully compliant yet [with IPR laws]." They must be "educated as to why original software is important for their own economic prosperity. Education is also the way to deal with individual home- users."
BSA's president says that he does not believe that the allegedly high cost of software is the reason for piracy. "Software companies are currently offering competitive prices for their products, and yet you find that one of the cheapest software products, games, is one of the most widely pirated." Unlike hardware which is difficult to steal, software is easy to copy .
While the legal framework for intellectual property rights (IPR) exists in Egypt, other measures still need to be undertaken in order to protect against piracy.
"There is [the perception] that the law can further be strengthened so as to give [authorities] the ability [to obtain a court order] on a confidential basis. This would allow them to go into a facility, search it, and preserve the evidence." Illegal copies of software can be "erased as quickly as they can be made which is why search warrants without notice are needed."
Hollyman highlights the importance of IPR in relation to a Free Trade Area (FTA) between Egypt and the US. "I don't think piracy rates should be an obstacle to beginning FTA negotiations. But in any final FTA that is approved by both countries, there should be steps taken to further strengthen IPR."
The effective combating of software privacy is possible in Egypt precisely because it has a "growing software sector." According to the IDC study, Egypt's software industry is the most prominent one in the Middle East and Africa. "The government is committed to attaining a dramatic growth in the industry, one which will be geared towards export. It realises that strengthening IPR laws will be a big part of that.


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