An original, licensed Windows 7 Home Premium software package starts at US$119.9 (Approx. Shs 300, 000) on the global market. A PC with this software installed could cost up to Shs1.4 million in local stores in Kampala.
On the other hand, the same PC without this software goes for about 30% less. A buyer can then install unlicensed software from dealers around town for Shs 30,000 or less. Some get it free.
Sharif Kaggwa, an administrator at Computer City in Kampala which trades in licensed computers and software, says such software piracy is on the rise as prices of PCs and licensed software go up and users go in for cheaper options.
“This is a big problem to us,” he said, “the government, manufacturers of this software, and traders are losing a lot of money to illegal dealers.”
Kaggwa says licensed software businesses are endangered if the piracy is not checked.
“I know of people who sell anti-virus-software as low as Shs 5,000 or less when the original ones which are fully licensed can go up to Shs 50, 000,” he says.
Pirated software has limitations and can be expensive in the long-run as it is prone to failure and cannot be updated. But that has not deterred buyers.
A 2012 Global Piracy Study conducted by Business Software Alliance (BSA), an anti-piracy organisation and a leader in shaping public policies that promote technology innovation and drive economic growth, ranks Kenya high among the countries that use pirated software. Since Kenya is Uganda’s major trading partner, such pirated software can easily be dumped here.
Kenya’s piracy rates for 2011, according to the study stood at 78% slightly below 81% recorded in 2007. The value of unlicensed software jumped to US$78 million in 2011 from US$28 million in 2007.
The BSA study, which was released this May, surveyed about 15,000 computer users in 33 countries that together make up 82 percent of the global PC market.
It says the global piracy rate for PC software stands at 42%, the commercial value of which climbed from US$58.8 billion in 2010 to US$63.4 billion in 2011. Piracy set new record highs in emerging economies.
The study indicates that software piracy rates in emerging markets towered over those in mature markets standing at 68% on average, compared to 24% respectively.
The United States which is the world’s largest software market has legal sales of software approaching US$42 billion annually. The country has the lowest piracy rate at 19% but, because it is such a large market, the commercial value of that piracy adds up to almost US$10 billion. China which is on course to overtake the US in the commercial value of its piracy, has an illegal software market worth nearly US$9 billion in 2011 versus a legal market of less than US$3 billion, making its piracy rate 77 percent.
The BSA study calculates piracy of all software that runs on PCs — including desktops, laptops, and ultra-portables, including netbooks. It includes operating systems, systems software such as databases and security packages, business applications, and consumer applications such as games, personal finance, and reference software. The study also takes into account the availability of legitimate, free software and open-source software.
Fighting the vice in most developing countries is said to be hard due to weak copyright and IT laws.
Charlotte Ampaire, corporate communications officer at National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (NITA-U), a government agency responsible for coordinating, promoting and monitoring information technology development, says there are no specific laws in the country designed to fight the vice.
But she says the agency is in final stages of publishing rules and guidelines educating the public about the dangers of using and selling pirated software.
She said the agency will soon roll out standards of software to be imported and is working with police and other security agencies at borders to ensure that pirated software are tracked.
Ampaire said that government currently incurs high costs on computer software and because of that; they are planning to go for bulk procurement of all software to be used by government and expect to cut thier spending by over 30%.
The government is one of the largest users of computer software. It spends Shs6.3 billion on internet per year, Shs 25billion on operating systems and Shs 290 million on anti-viruses for computers.
Since governments are the largest users of software in the world, according to the study, they should demonstrate leadership by ensuring they are using only fully licensed software in their own operations, in state-owned enterprises, and among all contractors and suppliers.
The study says reducing software piracy requires a fundamental shift in public attitudes towards software and awareness of the importance of managing software assets and respecting creative works.
But an IT expert at Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology says the government and other stakeholders need to support IT students in higher institutions of learning to make some of this software and put it on the market cheaply to reduce dependency on foreign software.