As part of the attempt to characterize Canada as a "piracy haven," the Business Software Alliance's annual Global Piracy Report plays a lead role. The Conference Board of Canada references the findings, as do their funders in their reports on the state of Canadian intellectual property laws (Chamber of Commerce, CACN). Moreover, the report always generates considerable media interest, with coverage this year in the Globe and Mail and Canwest papers. For example, the Globe cited the data directly in the Download Decade series stating that "about 32 per cent of the computer software in Canada is pirated, contributing to losses of $1.2-billion (U.S.) in 2008 alone, according to a report from the Business Software Alliance."
This year the BSA reported that Canada declined from 33 to 32 percent. Michael Murphy, chair of the BSA Canada Committee claimed that "despite the slight decline, Canada’s software piracy rate is nowhere near where it should be compared to other advanced economy countries. We stand a better chance of reducing it significantly with stronger copyright legislation that strikes the appropriate balance between the rights of consumers and copyright holders."
Yet what the BSA did not disclose is that the 2009 report on Canada were guesses since Canadian firms and users were not surveyed. While the study makes seemingly authoritative claims about the state of Canadian piracy, the reality is that IDC, which conducts the study for BSA, did not bother to survey in Canada. After learning that Sweden was also not surveyed, I asked the Canadian BSA media contact about the approach in Canada. They replied that Canada was not included in the survey portion of the study, explaining that:
"Countries that are included in the survey portion are chosen to represent the more volatile economies. IDC has found from past research that low piracy countries, generally mature markets, have stable software loads by segment, with yearly variations driven more by segment dynamics (e.g. consumer shipment versus business shipments of PCs) than by load-by-load segment. IDC believes that in mature markets, piracy rates are driven less by changes in software load than other market conditions, such as shipment rates and volume licensing errors. Canada is also a country that IDC studies regularly using confidential, proprietary methodology to examine PC deployment, software revenues and distribution channel dynamics, all of which help determine both software load and piracy rates."
This is a very revealing response. First, it is an express acknowledgement that the Canadian data this year is a guess. The data is never publicly presented in this way – the BSA cites specific numbers, the newspapers report it, and groups like the Conference Board of Canada and the Chamber of Commerce extrapolate these guesses into specific claims about job losses and economic harm. Second, contrary to the claims of the U.S. government and the copyright lobby groups, Canada is characterized as a low piracy market. The notion that Canada is the piracy equivalent to China or Russia has always been unsupportable and it now appears that the BSA's own research partner agrees. Third, the response acknowledges that it is not copyright laws that alter piracy rates in countries like Canada, but rather "market conditions such as shipment rates and volume licensing errors."
The Conference Board of Canada's plagiarized, deceptive report, completed with funding from copyright lobby groups and with the rejection of its own independently commissioned research, opened the door to how public policy may be manipulated through inaccurate data masquerading as authoritative. The revelations about the BSA's software piracy data further demonstrate that the rhetoric simply does not square with the reality.