WTO membership may torpedo software pirates

  • 1998-10-22
  • Sandra L. Medearis
RIGA - Riga software producer Tilde's managing director Uldis Dzenis has mixed feelings about software pirates swiping the company's Latvian dictionary.

"It is very bad news. It definitely takes away from our profit for our work, but we bought work from another author who has rights too," Dzenis said. "But it is good news that small companies steal it because we know people need our software. It tells us we have a good product."

Software pirates may feel stronger law enforcement volleyed across their bows following Latvia's acceptance on Oct. 14 as a candidate for World Trade Organization membership.

Under the WTO umbrella, an organization to smooth trade among countries, is the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement that sets minimum standards of protection of copyrights by each member. Even before the Saeima has ratified its membership, Latvia has committed to TRIPS and enacted required laws covering theft of intellectual property. The TRIPS agreement mandates strong protection for intellectual property and rapid remedies for theft, including civil search orders, deterring damages and high criminal penalties.

Pending WTO membership and adherence to TRIPS should help Latvia get its software piracy problem squared away, Tamer Erzurumlu, marketing manager for Microsoft Eastern Europe said.

"If Latvia really wants into the WTO, it must prove that it can carry out certain requirements," he said. "One requirement is the protection of intellectual property. If there is something to fix, they must fix it."

Erzurumlu and Dzenis say that Latvia's laws need to be enforced.

"The corporate law is not bad. It just has to be finely tuned so that the government pushes the enforcement side," Erzurumlu said.

Dzenis wants to see more education and pirates walking the plank.

"The biggest enemy for licensed software is the attitude of society. We need to inform users about licensing and what is piracy," Dzenis said. "People think that because some software is so easy to copy that it is OK to use it, but software is a product like a car, an iron, a refrigerator. It is not free."

Dzenis said that making examples of pirates could help reduce theft.

"The government could change minds faster by giving examples of court appearances and punishments. Then other people could see piracy as a crime. This is a most powerful tool," he said.

Not a lot of piracy is committed in Latvia's private sector, Erzurumlu said, because not many people have computers in their homes. Piracy, that estimates show is stealing 90 to 94 percent of software revenue in the Baltics, takes place in the commercial sector by three basic routes.

First, by out and out illegal reproduction and sales of stolen software programs. The second revenue leak occurs when small companies manufacture computers and sell them with unlicensed software loaded onto the hard drives, Erzurumlu said. "Unbundling," downloading some programs from software packages included by computer manufacturers and selling the programs separately is a third popular form of piracy.

With membership in WTO, Latvia will have greater access to information about practices in other countries and access to WTO-sponsored training. That will be good, Dzenis said.

"We cannot determine an exact figure, but software piracy costs our company a lot of money," he said.