Intellectual Property Crime in Software in Bangladesh – A Necessity or a Crime?

Before I get to the subject matter let me present you with a hypothetical scenario, the relevance of which will unfold itself as we move further. Consider a scenario where you are at a fruit stall in Bangladesh with the intention of buying mangoes. Upon entering the stall you realize that there are two varieties of mangoes available to you. Even though both groups of mangoes look the same and even taste the same (as the shop-keeper would tell you), you realize there are several latent differences. The first type of mangoes will have quality assurance, better packaging and the assurance of the fact that if you are not satisfied with the quality of the mangoes, you will have the right of returning them and get a full refund. In contrast, upon buying the latter group of mangoes, you will not get any of the privileges that you would get for the other category. Now let me unveil the most significant difference between the two groups. The first group of mangoes will cost you 50 U.S. dollars (roughly 3500 Bangladeshi Taka), whereas the other group will cost you 50 Bangladeshi taka. Being a regular Bangladeshi customer of a regular Bangladeshi citizen’s earnings, which of the mangoes would you buy? Be it because of common sense or economic situation as a Bangladeshi, if you go for the 50 taka mangoes, then I have already the portrayed the situation Bangladesh is in as far as “Intellectual Property Crime in Software” is concerned, to you, masquerading the software as mangoes.  This is exactly how intellectual property crime in software has bloomed in Bangladesh.

Before moving any further it is imperative to define “Intellectual Property Crime in Software.” As we can see, the topic is divided into two parts – “Intellectual Property Crime” and “Software”.   INTERPOL defines it Intellectual property crime as “a generic term used to describe a wide range of counterfeiting and piracy offences.” For the scope of our context, we shall limit ourselves to the extent of copyright infringement and piracy in software. Intellectual Property Crime in Software is commonly known as stealing software or mass distributing software without the consent of the original software developer. Simply put, when you buy a Microsoft Office 2007 DVD or FIFA 2011 game from your local dvd-store for around 80 taka (when the original price set by the developers of those products is more than couple of hundred US dollars) – you are committing and aiding in Intellectual Property Crime in Software. Now, we must define what we are referring to as “software.” Software are programs or applications that manipulate computer machinery or hardware and perform particular tasks that are part of their “job description.” Therefore “software” is just another fancy word for our very familiar Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop and other applications that we use everyday on our computer. Another thing we overlook when defining “software” is the fact that “computer games” also fall into the category of “software” and in my opinion computer games play a more major role in the intellectual property crimes in software in Bangladesh than any other form of software. This overall concept of “Intellectual Property Crime in Software” is often referred by the laymen as “software piracy.” Thus, I find it important to set forth a formal definition of software piracy. Britannica Macropedia defines software piracy as “any act that violates the rules set by the developers of computer software”. Thus, software piracy cannot be defined as a single action or violation; it is basically any action which disregards the End User License Agreement (EULA) of any software.

The severity of this particular crime is important in the context of Bangladesh are twofold. On one side “Intellectual Property Crime in Software” is a highly acclaimed international crime which is being committed at a large scale in Bangladesh, but on the other side, in order for Bangladesh to reach success in industrial or academic arenas, Bangladesh needs software. Keeping the economic strength of the people of Bangladesh in mind, the “official” prices of software are too high and it is absurd to expect Bangladeshi people to buy them with those prices. This is why it is very important to acknowledge this crime and take “realistic” actions about (I exaggerate on the fact that I said “about” not “against”) it. However, even if we deem this phenomenon as a petty occurrence, the global economy takes this crime very seriously. ScholarWare Law Agencyin USA says that, if someone is sued for civil copyright infringement of software, the penalty is up to $100,000 per title infringed (source: ScholarWare Law Agency Online). In addition to that, if one is charged with a criminal violation, the fine is up to $250,000 per title infringed and up to five years imprisonment. Not only is the penalty of this offence is abruptly stern but the developers also earn almost 2 million dollars every year from the lawsuits regarding software piracy in the United States of America (according to Prasad & Mahajan in the article titled “Copyright infringement of software in “International Journal in Marketing – Online Edition”). Besides these due to these, the software developers of our own country are discouraged to develop their products and work for the prosperity of the IT sector of Bangladesh. This crime also discourages foreign inverters to enter into our country and set up their businesses (mostly the software developers) which are a major drawback for us in comparison to India, our neighboring country.

As I mentioned above the key factor or cause of this particular crime in Bangladesh is its economic frailty. One example should be good enough to portray the cause. I checked the price of Microsoft Word/Office XP in different online stores that sell original software. From there I got to know that the original price of that software is $400. But surprisingly the price of a pirated copy of Microsoft Office XP here in Bangladesh is not more that 80 taka (a little over one U.S. dollar). It can be realized that the reason for such a crime to be a so vast in Bangladesh is purely economical. Currently in Bangladesh, from a person working in a sophisticated research laboratory to the typist at Neelkhet (the book piracy central of Dhaka city) needs a computer to make a living. Everyone of them needs the appropriate software for his/her applications and needs. Most of these software come from abroad (mostly USA) and their price tags will definitely dumbstruck a regular computer user of Bangladesh. In such a scenario, Bangladeshi people have found their needs to be met with illegal pirated software, which work just as good as the original ones, except for customer support and warranty. In such a situation, several underground “piracy groups” have emerged to run their businesses by distributing pirated software and games ie. Nandonic, Superbit, DLM (most of these are situated in Elephant road, Stadium Market and Rifles Square). The general masses do not look at them as offenders rather the economy is so harsh that they look up to them as their saviors. This is why Bangladesh is in such a dilemma regarding this particular crime.

The cure for Intellectual Property Crime in Software in Bangladesh is complicated since two factors needs to be kept in mind. If the government starts arresting the software pirates and shuts them down then the general people simply will have no access to software (unless they are billionaires). In contrary to this fact, it is not acceptable for a functional government to condone a crime of this gravity. Bangladesh has already passed the “Copyright Law” (2000). The law is intended to help writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, producers, publishers and computer software companies to protect their copyrights. According to this law the maximum punishment for infringement/copyright violation is jail-time of four years and fine of TK 200,000. However this act protects the Bangladeshi developers only (which is definitely a positive thing but it does not solve the crises of foreign software i.e. Microsoft products. Those software are still out of range of affordability of people. The disregard of the western world happens to be ominous is because of their negligence, even if the west is not taking penalty measures against Bangladesh, they are also shying away to help Bangladesh overcome this problem; and such a problem can never be dealt by Bangladesh itself without foreign support. As they are not exporting original software to Bangladesh, Bangladeshi people cannot buy original software even if they want to; although reality is that they cannot afford it anyway at the current pricing. In such a situation there can be some solutions if the government collaborates with the foreign software companies. If the western companies with the likes of the giants like Microsoft or Oracle, subsidize their prices for the third world country and establish their regional offices here in Bangladesh, then and only then can the government step in collaborate with the official developers and apprehend the criminals. But if the prices of the software remain the same as we see today then the software bandits will remain to be hailed as heroes.

I conducted a small survey of 20 students around the campus of North South University and found out that 14 of them (70%) are unaware of the original prices of the software they use everyday. Among the participants who were indeed aware of the real prices, five of the seven students did not even know that buying software from the regular vendors of our country is a violation of the law. Then, I interviewed Md. Kabir Hossain who is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at North South University regarding this topic. When asked about the solutions to the problem, he mentioned that even if the western developers do not subsidize their rates for countries like ours, they still have the provision of distributing older versions of their software legally at a lower rate for the benefit of the third world. He also proposed the usage use “open-source software” that are free even though they are readily available for technical purposes only at the time being.

The obstacles behind the solutions to this problem lie in the economy and the ignorance of both the home-government and western software/game developers. As I discussed above that the subsidization of software by the original developers is imperative in solving the crisis, they generally turn a deaf ear to our problems (the countries of the third world). But it would be wrong to blame the foreign companies exclusively. They were not ignorant always. In fact, the world’s largest software developer – Microsoft had requested the Bangladesh government to take measures to stop piracy as they wanted to launch their product in Bangladesh. Although that proposal went in vain due to the insubordination of our government, Microsoft still established a small official representative center in Bangladesh as mentioned by in the online daily – The Daily Star Online (by M. A.Rahim, on November 24, 2004). But unfortunately that petty representative of the western giant failed miserably in their endeavors due to the domination of the prevailing piracy situation in Bangladesh (prior to 2010). Even after this, the press never stopped discouraging this practice. In the daily newspaper The Daily Star,  K. Khan (January 7, 2007) insisted the government to take necessary steps to stop piracy or bring alternative solutions to the problem by saying “Software industry is grappled with all around dearth” as the software developers of our own country were losing jobs because of the loss caused by piracy. Thus we can see that the obstacles that Bangladesh faces are the incompetency of the government to collaborate with western developers and also the ignorance of the western developers towards our country.

However, recently there have been international policies made by the software producers that elucidate hope for developing nations such as ours. If you go about IDB Bhaban – the largest computer mall in Dhaka city then you will see a lot of original software such as Norton Antivirus and Kaspersky Internet Security(single user) that are selling for 800-1000 BDT which is a subsidized price for Bangladesh. This kind of step encourages the users to use and take benefit of the various supporting services the software developers give to their customers if they are their “genuine” users. Moreover, Microsoft has encouraged and situated their MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) movement in Bangladesh giving students free original Windows 7 (which is now available in Bangladesh for 7000-9000 BDT at IDB Bhaban) and Microsoft Office registrations so that they do not conform to the trend of software piracy. As “Pearson Education” – a large retailer of textbooks worldwide have started their “low priced editions” in Bangladesh, the software developers have started to follow their trend as well. However, a universal solution is still far-fetched an idea.

Consecutively, it can be said that, even if intellectual property crime in software in Bangladesh poses to be a necessity (in context of the poor economy) at this particular point of time, taking several crucial steps can break this ominous cycle. By implementing the alternative methods of software usage and by the assistance of the western developers, Bangladesh can manage to take herself to a respectable position in the world economy in a very short time. But one thing is for certain – we must take our country out of the frailty in the IT sector before imposing new copyright laws or else the practical solution will only be theoretical, never will it help in flourishing the economy of Bangladesh.

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2 replies

  1. great writing! I share exactly the same view but I don’t think our “digital” government will ever understand the gravity of this problem.

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