Software piracy takes a heavy toll on East African businesses


Small & Medium Businesses in East Africa are beginning to open their eyes to the risks of pirated software and the benefits of legally licensed software, yet the rates of software piracy in the region still remain high.

That’s according to Billy Owino, Regional Director for Sage East Africa, who says that software piracy undermines economic development and also potentially costs companies more in legal penalties and reputational damage than they would need to pay for legally licenced software.

Software piracy is the unauthorised duplication, distribution or use of computer software, an illegal practice that is subject to civil and criminal penalties.

A report by Kenyan authorities and Microsoft shows that software piracy in Kenya costs technology companies $128 million a year. Software piracy rates in Kenya are thought to be as a high as 80%.

Piracy can take many forms:

  • End-user copying: When one person buys a legally licensed piece of software and then allows more friends, business colleagues and family to copy the application than he or she has licenses for.
  • Illegal downloading: When someone downloads an illegal copy of the software from the Internet.
  • Volume software license copying: When businesses underreport the number of computers on which the software is installed so that they can pay for fewer copies than they are actually using.
  • Reseller copying: When resellers pass software onto their clients for free rather than selling a license.
  • Counterfeiting: Criminals copy the software and collateral, such as manuals, and sell it as the original product.

Why is software piracy bad?

Using pirated software is illegal. If you purchase software from an unauthorised company, make illegal copies or download pirated versions, you are breaching the rights of software owner, says Owino. If you are caught, you could be prosecuted or your reputation could be tarnished.

Many people think of software piracy as a victimless crime, but nothing could be further from the truth. By pirating software, organisations are depriving computer resellers and software vendors of their hard-earned revenues. This, in turn, impacts on the ICT industry’s ability to create jobs, invest in product research and development, and pay taxes, says Owino. Local resellers suffer because they don’t get the revenues they need to invest in their businesses.

In fact, the only beneficiary from software piracy is the pirate profiting off someone else’s work and intellectual property. In some cases, pirates have ties to other organised crime activities, so you could accidentally be supporting drug and human trafficking when you buy their product.

What’s more, says Owino, there is a very good chance that pirated software you buy from an unethical retailer or download via the Internet will contain some spyware or malware. Indeed, in some cases the motivation for giving or selling you pirated software is to plant a virus or key-logging software on your computer to steal your information.

Another drawback of pirated software is that you will not have access to the vendor’s technical support or the latest patches and updates. This will mean that you will not be able to use the full set of functionality in your product or keep it updated with the latest security features and fixes.

“In a time of seismic technological change and digital invention, our smart people use the smartest technology to reinvent and simplify business accounting. We enable our customers to focus on their business and help them to leapfrog to the future,” says Owino. “It is only through the support of our customers that we are able to keep investing in innovation that helps entrepreneurs to stay focused on growing their businesses.”


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