Asia-Pacific P2P users under scrutiny

The Business Software Alliance has sent out a Web crawler targeting Asian users of file swapping services, according to an online news report.

The group, which represents U.S. software makers, is also looking at Asia-Pacific Web sites for evidence of illicit file trading.

For years, the BSA has complained about the high level of software piracy in Asia where the use of knockoff software is so common, the free software movement has had a hard time making an economic argument for the use of its tools. The BSA claims that the average piracy rate for commercial software in the Asia-Pacific region is at its highest level since 1996 with losses last year hitting a record $5.5 billion.

The BSA says the software piracy rate in the Asia-Pacific region increased for three consecutive years to reach 55% in 2002. This rate was down from 68% in 1994. The BSA's estimates for software piracy dropped to 47% in 1999, but says it has gone up again largely because more people in China have become computer literate.

While most pirated software was once sold in local markets on disks, Asian users have discovered that P2P networks and Web sites are a more efficient way to get the latest releases. The BSA says it expects its crawler to turn up thousands of infringing Web sites each month. So far, the group says it has turned up software swapping sites in Singapore, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Japan and China.

The BSA sends ISP that host these sites a "notice of take-down," and the ISPs usually comply by taking the sites offline. The BSA says it did not pressure authorities in Sydney, Australia who recently arrested students who were allegedly trading music files. But the BSA said they would not rule out backing police actions if they have the support of local governments.

The fight against illegal software in Asia is ultimately a losing battle for companies because entire generations of users are accustomed to using pirated goods. And while the BSA can target Web sites that support software trading, software swapped on P2P networks liked Kazaa is harder to track because the software sits on user's personal machines.

The entertainment companies are now suing Kazaa for aiding copyright infringement, and the industry has made it clear that it can and will identify individual users via their IP addresses. Enforcement against pirated software in Asia is much more likely to take place as a form of selective political persecution by local governments that use software piracy as an excuse to harass group or individuals.

For this reason, nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups in the region are trying to move their operations to free software, and away from pirated copies of Windows systems and other commercial software that billions of Asian users have long been accustomed to pirating.

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