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US free trade pact set to deter software piracy in Singapore

SINGAPORE : About half of all computers in local offices is installed with software that violates on copyright legislations, says industry authorities, though that statistic is likely to change.

Software experts warned that offenders can expect legal action to be taken once the US free trade agreement (FTA) comes into effect next year.

The FTA will mandate copyright infringement as a criminal offence, though the details of how the law will be enforced and the severity of the punishments is yet to be confirmed.

The new set of legislation will be implemented from January to December next year, but many Singaporeans and businesses are ignorant of the upcoming changes, says an industry expert.

According to a study, 48 percent of the software installed in office computers in 2002 was illegitimate.

The expert warned that the "greatest piracy threat" for software companies is "organisational end-user piracy," where a company buys one copy of the original software and copies the program on more computers than licensed for.

Software companies also face the challenge of counterfeit software in circulation on the Internet or being peddled on streets.

And although the level of piracy has dropped by 13 percent since 1994, industry analysts are optimistic of a further drop with the US-Singapore FTA.

Even for a slight 10 percent drop in software piracy, Singapore can expect a US$1.3 billion boost to its gross domestic product and a US$64 million in government revenue from tax receipts, experts say.

The losses accrued to software piracy amounted to about US$13 billion in 2002, with 43 percent of the losses from piracy activities in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

First published November 20, 2003

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