The issue of software piracy is currently a hot topic worldwide. With file sharing programs freely available on the web and copied CDs abundant in markets around the country, pirated software is all too easy to obtain, not only in the Czech Republic. As a member of the Berne Convention and the Paris and Universal Copyright Conventions, the principal international organisations which protect copyright, the Czech Republic has taken a number of steps in recent years to increase its compliance with international piracy laws, and according to a recent study, its efforts have paid off.
A number of measures have also been taken by software producers and legal bodies to combat the problem. Tomas Koska is the head of the Windows client for Microsoft in the Czech Republic. He describes how the piracy phenomenon first appeared in the country.
"I think it began just after the revolution in 1989 when software companies started to enter the market, and they found themselves in a situation where there was a very high level of piracy such as we see today in Russia, Ukraine or Vietnam. Then during the last 15 years, a significant amount has been done to combat software piracy in our market."
What specifically has been done?
"Well, a lot of things, both on the level of legislation, working with legislators to make sure that intellectual rights are properly protected. And also a lot of education and awareness on the part of users to really communicate to them what the risks associated with using pirated software are, especially on the part of small and medium sized companies."
And what sort of damage has piracy done?
"Well, like I said, I am responsible for the Windows business and today we see that out of every two Windows PC users, one is not using a legal copy of Windows. That has a big effect on their system, because people installing software from the internet often don't know that they are installing software which has been damaged in some way, has some malicious software or spy ware. They are then using that on their PC, and then they may not able to use all the updates they need to, and then that is a great danger to their system."
How difficult is the investigation into how many people do have pirated software proving?
"Well I guess that about 40 percent of our Windows users are using pirated software, and our main goal with this is really to differentiate between genuine and legal users of Windows and people who are pirating copies. In the future we would like to bring them a lot of value in terms of updates, applications, maybe some downloads from the internet and even some enhancements to the user experience of the new version of Windows, which will be called Windows Vista. The non-paying user will not have the same experience, the same beautiful user interface as one who has properly paid for the software."
And that is in progress right now?
"Yes, that's being produced right now and it will be on the market by the end of this year."
Do you think that the piracy situation is improving in the Czech Republic?
"Yes, it has improved quite nicely in the last 15 years. We went from something like 90 percent to the 40 percent that we have today, so it is a great achievement. It is something that we are not solely responsible for, a lot of people on the part of the government and justice also played a role, and that of course contributes quite well to the Czech economy."
Indeed the level of software piracy in the Czech Republic has seen a significant drop in the last few years. A report issued on Tuesday by the Internet Data Centre showed particular improvement on the part of Czechs. As Mr. Koska mentioned, the percentage of illegal software in the country has decreased by around 26 percent since 1994. Marketa Zemanova is the piracy manager for Slovakia and the Czech Republic for Microsoft. She describes a little of the progress which has been made in recent years:
"The Czech Republic has now achieved a 40 percent piracy level, which is basically a decrease of one percent from last year, and in total it is about 15-20 percent less than 20 years ago. So great progress has been made on the enforcement level, the legislative framework has been improved and a new copyright act has been introduced. Especially after the Czech Republic entered the European Union lots of awareness, enforcement and education activities have been organised basically jointly with a great improvement of police investigation work."
Tuesday's report puts the Czech Republic high in the European rankings in terms of the prevalence of illegal software. The country's 40 percent piracy level puts it 12th out of the 35 countries observed in the IDC research. But with neighbouring Austria maintaining a rate as low as 26 percent, there is still work to be done to reduce the problem of piracy. Marketa Zemanova believes that progress made here has been substantial but that further measures could still be taken:
"The Czech Republic is now among the 20 countries which are ranked as the best countries in the whole Europe, Middle East and North Africa region, so the Czech Republic has made great progress in the last ten years since we started to analyse piracy on a global scale. We are far better than some of the former Soviet bloc countries which accessed the EU together with us, like Poland and others. But still, compared to the other countries which entered the EU some years ago, I think we still have to make a bit more progress to be able to at least sustain the same level of piracy as we managed to get now."
The consequences for software pirates can range from fines worth twice the original value of the software or up to 5 years in prison, for the most serious cases of illegal software distribution. Those found guilty of piracy can also be made to pay compensation to the software manufacturers themselves, costs which can be as high as one million crowns (over 45,000 dollars). But apart from the legal ramifications which threaten software pirates, companies are taking other more preventative measures to keep the problem under control. Jan Hlavac is the spokesperson for the Business Software Alliance in the Czech Republic. He describes precisely what is being done.
"There are many things that we do. We try to lobby in all the countries around the world for better copyright laws. We spread awareness regarding copyright laws. We have run several campaigns in the Czech Republic which actually highlighted the risks connected with piracy. But we also try to teach companies how to use software properly. We have created a dedicated webpage that deals with software management issues. Software management again is very important, especially in recent years. It is basically a new area of business which deals with managing software licenses. We also teach companies how to basically transfer the responsibility for the software to the end users. So we have done quite a lot in terms of education."
In light of this action, in light of what is being done to combat the problem, what do you think the future is? Do you think the trend is improving?
"Definitely, because I think that governments around the world are realising that in economic terms, they suffer quite a lot, so they try to do something about it. And of course the software companies try to lobby for copyright improvement as well. Look as China and what is happening there at the moment. So I definitely think that future is bright, and I'm fairly curious as to what is going to happen with the piracy rate in the Czech Republic in the coming years."
But you would advise propagators of pirate software to watch out?
"Definitely. I know that the police have improved a lot. They should worry."
Forgotten Czech net bag makes a comeback
Iconic Czech brands that survived competition from the West after the fall of communism
Czechs and Germans in 1930s Czechoslovakia: a complex picture
Škoda unveils 4th-generation Octavia ahead of model’s 60th anniversary
Unions: Strike Wednesday will hit most Czech schools