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Saudi ministries criticised over piracy

Nine out of ten software packages used by government organisations in Saudi Arabia are pirated, a report from a US industry body has revealed.

Nine out of ten software packages used by government organisations in Saudi Arabia are pirated, a report from a US industry body has revealed.

The report also claims that over half of all business software used in the Kingdom is illegal, and questions the effectiveness of Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) raids in deterring pirates.

Saudi Arabia was admitted to the World Trade Organisation in December last year — and has agreed to abide by international standards on intellectual property rights agreements — but piracy remains rampant in the kingdom, according to US organisation the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA).

The problem applies both to consumer and business software, with piracy rates running at over 90% for entertainment software products.

However, with 30% of all PCs in Saudi currently in government hands, the level of piracy within government organisations is of particular concern.

While some ministries have legalised their software, the IIPA says, it estimated that 90% of the software used in government overall was unauthorised.

Corporate piracy is also widespread, with 52% of business software used last year being unauthorised, according to the organisation’s figures.

According to the report, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Governor of Riyadh, has instructed that a special committee be formed to review the reforms needed to address piracy issues, which cost the kingdom over US$110 million in trade losses in 2005. The report does acknowledge that Saudi Arabia has already taken a number of steps to address the epidemic, after trade losses due to piracy peaked in 2003, when the kingdom lost as much as US$190 million due to copyright infringement.

Last year, for example, a reported 27 million units of pirate products were seized in the Kingdom, with one raid in Dammam last September resulting in the seizure of 2.28 million units.

However, the IIPA claims these raids have so far failed to sufficiently deter the pirates, and the organisation is calling for tougher action against those responsible. In the Damman incident, the pirate raided was back in business the next day with new products, the report notes.

“While the Ministry is to be commended for undertaking these successful raids the complete lack of any deterrence in the market has meant that the availability of pirate products has not diminished,” the report says.

In order to combat the trade in illegal software, the IIPA suggests that imprisonment may be a far stronger deterrent. “[Saudi Arabia should] engage in a complete clean-up of street vendor piracy, and subject offenders to deterrent penalties, not just deportation, which has proven to be an ineffective deterrent,” the report reads.

“MOCI, despite the fact that it has full authority to enforce the copyright law against all infringers, continues to refuse to deal with street vendor piracy, leaving that to the attention of the police, which are notoriously reluctant to involve themselves in copyright crimes,” it adds.

The report notes that the maximum fine ever imposed on a software pirate in the kingdom is equivalent to just US$13,332. The average fine levied on offenders is just US$2667.

Scott Butler, CEO of the Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance, described the fines as “embarrassingly low”.

“They are asking stakeholders to invest in the Kingdom,” he argues, “yet at the same time they are sending out the message to all pirates to come in and set up in Saudi Arabia, and the highest fine you’ll face is 50,000 Riayls (US$13,332).”

He believes that Saudi Arabia should follow the example of the UAE, which enforces tougher measures against software pirates, such as imposing custodial sentences. This has helped the Emirates to achieve an overall software piracy rate of just 34%, lower than countries such as France and Ireland.

“In the UAE nearly all the cases are resulting in deterrent penalties, namely imprisonment,” says Butler. “There is so much money that can be made from piracy that imprisonment is the only real deterrent.”

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