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BSA Piracy Study Drawing Fire

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There’s not a whole lot the BSA does that’s warmly embraced by the public. Let’s face it: its mission to punish software pirates and extract incremental revenue on behalf of the big software titans does little to endear itself to end-users, both consumers and businesses alike–particularly during times fraught with economic hardship.

The BSA recently fanned the flames when it released its 2010 Piracy Impact Study, suggesting that a 10% reduction in software piracy over the next four years would produce $142 billion in new economic activity, half a million new high-tech jobs, and $32 billion in new tax revenues. It goes without saying that the mere nature of the BSA’s mission practically guarantees a higher level of public scrutiny over the conclusions of its research. Critics of the BSA’s piracy studies range from the predictable BSA-bashing bloggers to more restrained industry experts; but irrespective of the source, the criticism boils down to claims that the BSA’s methodology and assumptions behind its conclusions are overly simplistic because they fail to take into account the complexities of local and global software markets and consumer behavior. Here’s a sample of some of the more academic opinions I came across:

Michael Geist, Internet Law Expert, University of Ottawa (via ITBusiness.ca)

“If this study is really nothing more than an analysis of a 10 per cent increase in spending dressed up as a 10 per cent reduction in piracy, that would be a shockingly misleading approach… The suggestion that reducing unlicenced software use leads directly to great IT purchasing is demonstrably false, given the many examples where organizations lower piracy rates by turning to open source alternatives.”

Glyn Moody, Blogger, open…

“…if people had to pay for their unlicensed copies of software, they would need to find the money by reducing their expenditure in other sectors. So in looking at the possible benefit of moving people to licensed copies of software, it is also necessary to take into account the losses that would accrue by eliminating these other economic inputs.”

R. Mark Clayton (reader, via v3.co.uk)

“What proportion of those using pirate software does BSA think would translate into actual sales? Not many I would guess – most would substitute free or low cost software (e.g. Open Office, Serif) or just not purchase at all (games, music).”

Despite claims of substantially overstating the negative impact of piracy, most economic experts agree that the overall result of piracy is a net economic loss, particularly in more developed countries where most software is being developed. I do, however, believe the BSA would be better served by going out of its way to be conservative with its assumptions and methodologies and/or to show a range of possible conclusions based on a range of reasonable assumptions. At the very least, it would give BSA detractors less ammunication for their criticisms, and potentially make end-users think twice about “sticking it to Microsoft” (or worse yet, smaller publishers) when deciding how and from where they obtain software.