Software piracy in China
October 23rd, 2012 by David Bradley >> No Comments
Data mining of publicly available information from Google and China’s main search engine Baidu reveal that college-educated, relatively affluent, information technology professionals and students are most likely among their compatriots to be using search terms associated with finding pirated business software, at least according to a new study by Yale University.
Writing in the International Journal of Intellectual Property Management, Kyle Hutzler and colleague Katherine Linton suggest that piracy-related internet search terms are a suitable proxy for assessing the prevalence of actual software piracy in a given region. The illustration shows the incidence of such search terms by region. They have found that Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces are the most likely places to find people searching for pirated software based on the Google data. The Baidu data shows that there are disproportionately more 20- to 29-year-old male college-educated students and information technology workers than other demographic groups carrying out such searches.
Perhaps such findings are not actually too surprising as one might imagine that educated IT workers would have more need for business software (such as MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, AutoCAD etc) and whatever their financial circumstances it is not as if a tradition of copyright infringement and intellectual property theft are beyond imagination in this part of the world. I recall during my time in journals publishing that China had one of the greyest, if not yet black markets for copied journals. Perhaps this attitude has become well entrenched in the burgeoning digital economy too. An earlier 2011 study supports this notion revealing that business software piracy was at a rate of 78% compared to just 20% reported in the USA. The previous high for China had been 93%, so presumably education and increasing affluence have had some impact.
Of course, the researchers suggest that software companies lose tens of billions to such piracy, although for most software there are open source and freeware equivalents, so one has to wonder whether this is true. It seems that the urge to obtain illicit copies of well-known software packages may be to do more with brand awareness and ignorance of open source than the great benefits that the proprietary software tools are, according to the companies that produce them, supposed to have.
Personally, when I scan the software on my laptop I find absolutely none that required a paid license other than the operating system, everything is either open source or freeware.
Nevertheless, say the researchers: “Empirical research generally supports a negative correlation between gross domestic product (GDP) and software piracy; higher per capita income leads to less piracy,” the team says. They add that, “Findings related to the gender, age, and occupation of those with a higher propensity to pirate suggest that software firms may benefit from targeting their anti-piracy strategies to those populations that appear to be driving high piracy rates in China.”
Hutzler, K. (2012). Using online tools to estimate the geographic and demographic profile of potential business software piracy in China, International Journal of Intellectual Property Management, 5 (3/4) 253. DOI: