BSA estimates $51 billion in software piracy

In the yearly tradition, the Business Software Alliance has estimated how much damage piracy did to its industry, this time coming up with $51.4 billion.

That’s actually less than last year’s figure of $53 billion, but the BSA says the change is null once you account for exchange rates. Besides, the group said, unauthorized software is still rising sharply in developing markets such as Brazil, India and China.

BSA estimates  billion in software piracy

Of note in this year’s study (PDF) is how the BSA uses the term “commercial value” instead of “loss” to describe the effects of piracy, a subtle acknowledgement that a pirated copy of software doesn’t necessarily equate to a lost sale. Skeptics of the BSA’s numbers have pointed this out for years, but the BSA’s change of heart was probably due to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study that placed doubt on statistics from copyright groups. After spending a year studying the effects of peer-to-peer file-sharing and counterfeiting, the GAO concluded that finding a real number for piracy damages is nearly impossible.

Despite the change in terminology to “commercial value” of piracy, the BSA still insists that there’s a correlation between unauthorized software and lost sales. The group told PC World that countries with lower piracy rates have correspondingly higher software markets. The BSA also pointed to “business piracy,” in which companies avoid licensing software for all of their computers, as an example of where users might be forced to pay if they didn’t have an illegal option.

Of course, these claims rely on generalizations and assumptions. A country’s high piracy rates could be due to all sorts of socioeconomic issues, so building the software markets there is more complicated than adding enforcement and DRM. And I’m not convinced that enforcement of “business piracy” would solve the issue either. Maybe if IT departments were forced to pay more than their budgets allowed, they’d move to free, open-source solutions. That actually happened in France.

Generally, I’m skeptical of any statistics put out by the BSA, especially after I spent way too much time debunking the group’s supposed link between piracy and malware. But I still enjoy gawking at the numbers the BSA comes up with.