Microsoft has launched a new initiative aimed at combating software piracy in the Middle East, by promoting the use of legal software. The company’s recently released “Get Legal” program, is targeted at “facilitating cost-effective legalization of Microsoft software products,” according to the company’s statement.
The promotion enables customers in Oman, Lebanon and Jordan to install Windows on existing PCs with illegal software. Windows operating system products could typically only be sold with new PCs. The company estimated that this new offering would slash legalization costs by 50 percent.
Nonetheless, the new offering is limited by the fact that it is only valid for personal computers (PCs) purchased “on or after August 1, 2000” and it will only be offered until November 30, 20000.
Over 90 percent of the world’s desktops currently run the Windows software, and this ubiquity makes Microsoft products the largest victim of software piracy. According the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an international copyright watchdog, software piracy cost the industry over $12 billion in 1999.
Software piracy is a major problem in the Middle East. Revenue losses due to computer software piracy in the Middle East soared from $138 million in 1998 to $245 million in 1999, according to BSA data. The overall piracy rate in the Middle East decreased to 63 percent in 1999 from 69 percent in 1998 and from 83 percent five years ago.
"Piracy is a major obstacle to the growth of the software sector. High piracy rates discourage software and services companies from investing, and this in turn may place restraints on countries aiming to take their place in the global Internet economy," said Ashok Sharma, regional director, Middle East for the BSA.
In Lebanon for example, the BSA estimated a software piracy rate of 88 percent in 1999, Lebanon Daily Star reported. Offering no encouragement is the fact that despite declining piracy rates, the country lags far behind other parts of the region in its anti-piracy efforts.
Despite a new Lebanese government-passed intellectual property rights law in March 1999, a clause in legislation permitted students to continue to “dupe” software, since the cost of legalization was deemed too high.
Experts contend that the business environment has been slow to respond to the legislation, due to the government’s equally slow enforcement of its law. Nonetheless, some progress is expected. In 1997, Microsoft said that international companies would not invest in Lebanon until it provided copyright protection.
In Egypt, the situation is slightly more promising than that in Lebanon. Despite the fact that Egyptian law provides the legal basis to protect software, international statistics reveal that software piracy remains quite high in the local market. According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), piracy rates in Egypt stand at an estimated 85 percent, Al-Ahram Weekly reported.
The United Arab Emirates boasts a piracy rate of 47 percent, according to the BSA, making it the most effective nation in the Middle East in combating piracy. By way of comparison, the Sultanate of Oman’s software piracy rate has decreased from 93 percent to 88 percent between 1998 and 1999.
Adil Ishfaq of Microsoft Gulf and East Mediterranean claimed that Microsoft was “committed to supporting the growth of the software industry in Lebanon.” He added, “The government has taken the initiative to promote the use of legal software…[as part of a] move from Microsoft’s end to safeguard the region’s intellectual property.”
The overall performance of Middle East countries in combating software piracy has marginally improved over the last year. A combination of new copyright laws coming into effect in the late part of 2000, and a growing pressure and campaign to increase intellectual property awareness in the region are expected to enhance the fall of piracy in the coming years. — (Abawaba-MEBG)