COPYRIGHT is a universal controversial point. Sri Lanka has remained at the forefront of piracy, cementing its place among the top piracy culprits in Asia and around the world. In 2007 Sri Lanka was placed as having the sixth highest piracy rate in the world and second in the Asian region, showing how deep-rooted the problem is.
The study was conducted independently by IDC, the information technology industry’s leading global market research and forecasting firm, which, for the first time, covered Sri Lanka as well. Sri Lanka was found to have a software piracy rate of 90% in a study conducted as an extension of the IDC’s Global Software Piracy Study 2006. This means that nine out of 10 software programmes installed on personal computers in 2006 in Sri Lanka were unlicensed or obtained illegally through software theft.
This high software piracy rate has resulted in US$ 86 million in retail revenue losses to the local Sri Lankan software economy, according to the IDC. The findings of the study highlighted the need for action against software piracy in Sri Lanka, where it has taken a heavy toll on personal and business users as well as the overall economy. However the government has disagreed with these findings contending that they are exaggerated.
The broader economic impact of software piracy is significantly greater than the retail value of pirated software. Among the many negative consequences of software piracy is the crippling of local software industries because of competition with pirated software, lost tax revenue and jobs from the lack of a legitimate market and decreased business productivity from using unsupported and unwarranted software.
Understandably, the only solution to this problem is education and awareness. Even though most people approve of piracy and indeed require it to move in tandem with the swiftly advancing world, the possibility for producing open source alternatives must also be considered. It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka’s considerable IT talent is not focused on creating software that will not only provide an alternative to standard software provided by multinational giants such as Microsoft but can assist to bridge the disparity between English and Sinhala users with development of new tools that will make the internet accessible to all. Even simple tools such as easier Sinhala and Tamil fonts for word processing and the chance to transmit classes conducted in Colombo to rural schools could make a vast difference in dealing with income disparities.
On a related note, Police on Wednesday took into custody over 3,600 CDs that were illegally sold in over 100 shops in Colombo. Even though this is nothing new, it took a special appeal from local artistes to draw attention to this blatant abuse of copyright. Most of these funds are needed to enable artistes to pursue their vocation and provide incentive for more people to enter the industry. Therefore, at least for local artistes, the rule of copyright has to be adhered to strenuously.
Long-term implementation of copyright hinges on awareness. People have to understand that it exists in many ways and take steps to ensure that they are not unwittingly part of the crime. However, in deference to economic situations, it must be acknowledged that developing nations will use piracy as a means to get access to expensive technology, the ethics of which is hotly debated everywhere.