Asia ‘pirates’ out of necessity, not choice

The content industries, specifically those in the US, accuse Asia of being the polestar of all piracy. Is this really the case? Or do otherwise law-abiding Asians have no other choice, no other legal alternatives?

Asia is associated with piracy. This association isn’t off the mark. People here use P2P networks to download copyrighted music (among other things), and having bootleg software on one’s computer is a completely normal thing. The idea of paying $100 for an original copy of Windows is considered wild. People are laughed at when they ask a computer salesman for original copies of Windows XP, Microsoft Office or Norton Antivirus. The general consensus is, when you can get it so easily for free, why bother? Well, many of us do bother.

Why is piracy widespread in Asia?
This question has two simple answers. Firstly, there aren’t viable legal competitors. Piracy can only be overcome if the customer feels he/she is getting something better by buying content, instead of downloading it for free. There are moral issues involved as well, and each person has a different breaking point. For some it might be being able to purchase songs from the iTunes Store, for others it might be getting a better deal, like an all-you-can-download monthly subscription service.

Secondly, Asia comprises mostly of ‘third world’ countries, most of whose citizens can’t afford the exuberant rates companies like Sony ($700 for a 512MB mp3 player) charge for their products. Multi-nationals are slowly understanding this and are starting to sell their products at a cheaper rate in Asia. The XBOX 360 is one of these. Also, many countries charge extraordinary import taxes on goods. This makes an imported good purchased in the grey market almost 1/3 the price of one bought legally. For example, iPods bought in the US and sold in India are considerably cheaper than those sold by authorised dealers here. Wired News published a mostly accurate piece on the booming grey market of iPods in India.

Pirates will be pirates
iTunes Store - CountryPirates will be pirates. But people who want to purchase digital content legally will only be pirates if they have no other choice. Accusing an entire continent of being law-breakers is outrageous. Everyone’s favourite example these days is the iTunes Store. If Apple would expand into more countries, I am sure we would see a noticeable drop in the amount of music shared over P2P networks. Companies like Apple need to start trusting Asia. They can only gain from this. Piracy will continue with or without them. Their presence might actually reduce it. Apple Asia’s marketing director said that they “cannot comment on the specifics but it is true that iTunes is not available in Asia” and that the continent’s attitude towards copyrighted material is “relaxed.”

In April we reported on how a leading Indian newspaper, the Hindustan Times was openly promoting BitTorrent and the downloading of copyrighted files. Do they have another good legal alternative to recommend to their tech-savvy readers? No, they do not.

Asia now has the money. We’re just not being recognised as a potential market. Don’t turn away from us. We don’t want to be forced to pirate. “Do you want more frickin’ pirates?” asked Joey Alarilla, writing for CNET Asia. My answer is no, we do not.

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