Does The WIPO Copyright Treaty Work? The Business Software Association Piracy Data

The Business Software Alliance is out today with their annual report on global piracy in 2008.  While the methodology raises serious questions – the BSA actually only surveys about 5,000 people in 24 countries and then extrapolates the data to 110 countries – the report shows declining numbers in many countries, though there is an overall increase due to very high rates in parts of the world.  It also points to the growing importance of open source software, which the report says commands 15 percent of the market.

Piracy rates in Canada have been steadily declining in recent years – down to 32% in 2008 from 36% in 2004.  Canada ranks among the 25 countries with the lowest piracy rates, ahead of many European countries including France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal (notwithstanding claims of CAAST).  The 32% is lower than the European Union average, lower than any country in Africa, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East (tied with Israel), and lower than all but three Asian countries (Japan, Australia, and New Zealand).  In fact, only five countries that have ratified the WIPO Internet treaties have software piracy rates lower than Canada.  So much for Canada as a piracy haven and deserving of a place on the USTR Priority Watch List.

Beyond refuting many of the claims about Canadian piracy rates, the data is interesting since the BSA uses it to argue that implementing of the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) is part of a blueprint for reducing software piracy.  It says it is one of five key elements:
In 1996, in direct response to the growing threat of Internet piracy, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopted new copyright treaties to enable better enforcement against digital and online piracy. More than 1.2 billion people around the globe now have Internet access – increasing the power and potential of software but also opening new doors for pirates to distribute their wares. In order to ensure protection of copyrighted works in
the digital age, countries need to update national copyright laws to implement their wIPo obligations. Among other things, these measures ensure that protected works are not made available online without the author’s permission, and that copy protection tools are not hacked or circumvented.

But does the BSA's own data support the claim that implementing the WCT is a key element in combating piracy?  The short answer is no.  WIPO lists seventy countries as having ratified the WCT.  The BSA does not offer data for 16 of them (Belarus, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Mali, Mongolia, Saint Lucia, Tajikistan, Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago) and there is no comparative data for Georgia (this is the first year of data at 95% piracy rate).  That leaves 53 countries.  The full chart can be downloaded here, but the data shows that:

Modest increase (5% to 9%) No countries
Minor increase  (4% or more) 4 countries
No change 4 countries
Minor decrease (4% or less) 28 countries
Modest decrease (5% to 9%) 14 countries
Significant decrease (10% or more) 3 countries

In other words, 68% of the countries that the BSA tracks that have ratified the WCT have shown no change or only a minor increase or decrease in software piracy rates. The three countries that showed a significant decrease are Russia (which only ratified in February), China (which ratified in 2007), and Qatar (which ratified in 2005).  Russia and China are important markets, yet their numbers remain very high (68% in Russia and 80% in China) and few would argue that the big declines are as a result of anti-circumvention legislation.  Moreover, the average software piracy rate among WCT ratifying countries is 62% and, as mentioned, only five countries that have ratified the WCT have software piracy rates lower than Canada's.

What does all of this really mean?  My take is that where software piracy rates are declining, this is due largely to the increasing use of open source alternatives and tougher enforcement.  Notwithstanding the rhetoric that seeks to link the WIPO treaties with addressing infringing activities, anti-circumvention legislation required by the WIPO Internet treaties is largely irrelevant for the purposes of combating commercial piracy.


  1. An interesting note
    Having looked at the PDF, it appears that they consider the Torrent Tracker site “Pirate Bay” to be one of “Internet piracy is initiated at so called “top sites” where expert crackers release high quality pirated versions of software… One of them, the BitTorrent hub called “PirateBay”, is one of the… ”

    Major disinformation. If that were the case, the the US would have an incredibly high rate due to the presence of Google and Yahoo.

    Add to that the fact that they admit that they survey 24 countries and extrapolate that to over 100… Neither did they, in the main part of the document, account for differences related to exchange rates. For instance, on page 13 they indicate loss rate estimates for Canada increased from $1.071B to $1.222B (US) for an apparent increase of $151M. However, on page 20 they note that $60M of that is actually related to the exchange rate.

  2. Legal channels help a lot
    The fact that people can access content via legal means more and more these days helps a lot. Sure CTVglobemedia has honestly one the of the weakest online players for content at least they try, and are a bit still better then the cbc players for rick mercer report etc. Now the channel at on youtube is able to provide HQ clip almost same as short cbc style internet clips on demand for anyone world wide and can at least monetize it via google in theory.
    Sadly not full episodes and hulu level of quality. If we had Hulu access in Canada id bet there would be a 10% drop illegal DLs do to access to legal on demand content for a few advertisements.(30 seconds per 5mins is a nice standard IMO since its not enough to make you wanna get up and fast forward or take a leak etc)

    The better organized and better interfaces will make legal on demand content for computers and even mobiles in the future. And the industry’s really need to start keeping up with the technology. This is key to the advancement of content access and once wireless infrastructure is built up/advanced enough for portable devices to interface with with hdtv and play content on demand and interface with flawlessly. Convenience and accuracy are the real keys to the advancement of content. Accuracy and pinpointed ads to the consumer are in the best interests of all those at the table feasting on the big pizzapie…

    Id guess my estimated numbers are more accurate then extrapolated bs numbers that these firms and Nielsen that determine what are high rated shows and what is good content for TV. Sooner or later we are gonna go to a universal DVR system format(hopefully websites with mobile versions) where we can watch what we want when we want wherever we want. If the industries spent as much money lobbying and spending money to extort people in lawsuits for quick shack downs(bush fear tactic mentality?) and created more viable internet based mediums for consumers to access content they will never advance and this silly war like the war on drugs, that can not and will not be won with a brick wall mentality.

    The more tubes(youtube megavideo veoh etc etc) keep up with technology with higher quality video that you can plug right into a HDTV and play flawlessly the more old media will try to fight it. It has to adapt or die, or get a massive bailout at the future generations expense.

  3. Alan Plastow says:

    The issue we should all find significantly chilling is that this series of industry-sponsored studies is being used by our respective legislators to enact increasingly complex local, national, and global law.

    I do not argue the need to legislate more effective copyright laws. However, I do argue that the plethora of existing legislation is confusing to the point of useless for the average citizen. What’s more, the accuracy and applicability of this study are not placed under a high enough level of vendor-independent scrutiny or confirmation.

    Interestingly enough, after nearly twelve years of delivering technology asset management and software asset management training–with attendees from nearly every developed country–I have yet to speak with anyone who has actually participated in, or knows anyone who participated in, this study.

  4. Richard Stallman says:

    In disputing the question of whether the WIPO copyright treaty
    “works”, this article fell into the BSA’s trap, by accepting and
    repeating the BSA’s propaganda term “piracy”.

    When the BSA accuses a person, or a country, of “piracy”, it makes two
    claims at once. The more visible claim, which is the less important,
    accuses one entity of sharing. The deeper, veiled claim is that
    sharing is wrong, like attacking ships. Linking the two claims
    creates the trap, since the obvious way to dispute the visible claim
    has the effect of endorsing the veiled deeper claim.

    Evidence that the WIPO Copyright Treaty does not achieve its goal is
    interesting in regard to tactics to use against the treaty. However,
    we should be careful when talking about that not to endorse the
    treaty’s goal. The worst thing about the treaty is not that it
    “doesn’t work”, but rather that its requirements attack the freedom of

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