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Mon 27 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Theft is theft – by any other name

Positive news on Saudi Arabia is being quickly negated by reports that the Kingdom has some of the highest piracy rates not only in the region, but the world. A recent report says that 90% of software used within government organisations is pirated; corporate piracy is running at 52% and consumer piracy has hit 90%.

As Saudi Arabia prepares for Gitex, the annual IT exhibition to be held in Riyadh this month, good news stories on how the Kingdom is using IT to develop and drive its economy and improve corporate and government service levels tend to proliferate.

For example, the most recent issues of ACN feature stories include how: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Commission for Tourism is leveraging IT to help develop tourism in the Kingdom; Panda, the giant retail chain, is using warehouse automation to support a doubling of its retail outlets; and Saudi CIOs are preparing to implement the latest techniques to improve business processes across their organisations.

It is all positive news for a country that prides itself in investing for the future of its people. But it is news that is being quickly negated by reports that KSA has some of the highest piracy rates not only in the region, but the world.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) claims in a report that 90% of software used within government organisations is pirated, and this despite government actions to legalise unauthorised programs. Corporate piracy is said to be running at 52% and consumer piracy, especially for entertainment products, has hit 90%.

There are no excuses for such figures, however much some claim that reports in the press have been sensationalised. At worst, piracy is theft. At best, it highlights poor management within organisations of all sizes.

The figures do not separate blatant piracy theft from licensing mismanagement. But the results are the same. The vendor – the owner of the intellectual property being used illegally – is not getting the rewards it is it entitled to, and that impacts everyone in the IT food chain. Lost revenues mean vendors do not have the funds to continue their research and development efforts; the local economy is deprived of income to drive it forward; and the end user loses both the benefits of on-going development and a thriving local IT sector.

But let’s assume that the majority of piracy within government and corporate departments is not blatant theft. If it is licence mismanagement, then it is something that can be tackled relatively easily and is something that would drastically lower piracy figures in the Kingdom very quickly.

We all know that it is very easy to lose track of who is using what in the organisation in a period of rapid expansion, with newcomers joining the company daily. The objective is to get them up and running on their desktops as quickly as possible and worry about licensing administration later. But that is not really an excuse.

A workable solution could be to follow the example of the UAE government which has struck a volume licensing agreement with a vendor for its desktop products and then outsourced the management of the deployment of the software to a third party.

While the agreement itself was said not to be piracy related, the fact is that the agreement ensures that the possibility of piracy through mismanagement within the UAE government organisations is significantly reduced. There is also the added benefit that government departments will be reducing the desktop overhead on their 5,000 PCs by between 40% and 60%.

So maybe, as a first move to reducing piracy within government organisations in KSA, it is time for vendors operating in Kingdom to sit down with Government and thrash out ways of improving the situation or at the very least make submissions to the special committee being formed to review the reforms needed to address the country’s piracy issues.

As for the other kind of piracy: theft is theft and needs to be dealt with as such.

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