x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Software pirates 'steal' half a billion dirhams

More than a third of commercial computer software in the UAE is pirated, according to a piracy watchdog report.

More than a third of commercial computer software in the country is pirated, according to a report which claims the practice cost the industry over half a billion dirhams last year. The report, the seventh annual study by the Business Software Alliance, a piracy watchdog, and IDC, an IT and telecommunications consultancy, estimated that Dh1.9billion had been lost to piracy since 2005.

It claimed that for every Dh100 of legitimate software sold, another Dh56 worth was pirated - about 36 per cent. This rate had remained virtually unchanged since 2005, when it was 34 per cent, raising concerns that antipiracy strategies were not working. However, the rate was lower than the global average of 43 per cent, with the country ranking 21st out of 111 in tackling the problem. This put it ahead of all Arab countries.

"[The companies] should focus on the awareness of the consumers and to get them to understand why they are better off with original software," said Maj Faisal al Shamari, Abu Dhabi Police's chief information security officer. Maj al Shamari defended the UAE's record on piracy, saying that companies were largely to blame. They indirectly contributed to the problem by carrying out too few corporate social responsibility projects, which contributed to their image as unsympathetic "tycoons", he said.

The overpricing of software was also a factor. "We have no taxes here in the UAE, so why are their prices the same as in the US?" asked Maj al Shamari, adding that few companies offered incentives such as student discounts which are common in the West. Experts said the problem was probably far more acute for the entertainment industry. This was partly because people could download material from their homes, said Dr Fadi Aloul, the assistant professor of computer engineering at the American University of Sharjah.

"People don't fear or think much about the piracy issues involved," he said, adding that no middleman was required. While figures were unavailable for how many computer games were pirated, Kishan Palija, the managing director of Geekay Games, a retailer based in the UAE, said customers very rarely bought software after buying games consoles such as the Xbox 360. "Obviously piracy of video games is much higher than software," he said.

"If you go into the small malls to a small electronics kiosk they will load games on your PlayStation Portable. People are buying the machines and pirating the games." Experts were divided on how best to tackle the problem. Most favoured tougher enforcement measures against sellers and organisations that used pirated commercial software, but took a different approach to individual consumers. One suggestion was to restrict access to websites that promoted piracy.

"[In the UAE] we have a proxy, which has advantages and disadvantages," said Dr Aloul. "One of the advantages is that it can block the sites that allow illegal downloads." Consumers also needed to be educated on the dangers of using pirated software, which is often infected with programmes that can compromise the user's security, said Lance Spitzner, the president of HoneyTech, an IT security consultancy.

"You want to educate the users on the risks of using pirated software, which is easily infected, can't be updated and often doesn't really work," said Mr Spitzner. Once people were educated, said Dr Aloul, they would realise that piracy was a "time bomb" on their computers. Instead of going after the end users, the Government needed to concentrate on the suppliers of pirate programmes and the companies that used them.

"You have to go after the organisations that are most flagrantly doing it. Go after the big fish," he said. kshaheen@thenational.ae hdajani@thenational.ae