Widespread Use of Unlicensed Software in Pakistan

Widespread Use of Unlicensed Software in Pakistan

National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA), one of the biggest regulatory authorities in Pakistan, has spent millions on expensive Apple iMacs that run pirated Windows 7 and Windows 10. The fact that Pakistan’s official identification document, National Identity Card (NIC) issuing authority NADRA which deals in large scale data management including biometrics is using unlicensed Windows software on Apple and iMac machines implies that the organisation is exposed to a  variety of security, legal and reputational risks.[1]

Software piracy is the violation of copyright laws, and involves unauthorised copying, distribution, or use of copyrighted software without proper licensing or permission from the copyright holder. It is argued that Pakistan’s pirated software is not even one per cent of the global value of the unlicensed software in dollar terms, but the reality is that in terms of percentage of total pirated software used in the country, Pakistan easily beats the regional as well as global piracy rates.

According to Business Software Alliance (BSA) surveys conducted through 1996 to 2018 the average rate of piracy in Pakistan is 83%.[2] The higher rate of software piracy in Pakistan is affecting global software organisations as it reduces the sales and profit of the licensed software and also the opportunity for the advancement of the new versions of software. No legislation has been made to stop the use of pirated software to prevent the theft of intellectual property and to avoid financial loss.

In January 2020, during her visit to Pakistan, Principal US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells accused Pakistan’s Federal of Board of Revenue (FBR) of using “pirated” versions of its VMware software.[3] VMware provides cloud computing and virtualization software and runs on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS, while its enterprise software hypervisor is for servers. Wells maintained that FBR was using the pirated version of VMware illegally, urging Pakistan to purchase the software.

Almost as if proving the US allegations correct, in August 2021 Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue  suffered an outage in the form of  an attack on Microsoft’s Hyper-V software which affected FBR’s public-facing applications, all apparently caused by pirated software. FBR admitted that it was not always on top of licences and some of its code may be unsupported.[4]

In its annual review of the global state of intellectual property protection and enforcement, “Special 301” report of the US Trade Representative (USTR),  the US government has placed Pakistan on the ‘watch list’  for intellectual property matters and enforcement. The report says that serious concerns remain in Pakistan particularly in the area of IP enforcement. Counterfeiting and piracy remain widespread, including with respect to digital content, and software.[5]

The manufacturing sector in Pakistan is bearing the brunt of the financial impact from widespread use of pirated and untaxed software. Most software companies – Microsoft, SAP, IBM and Oracle for example – work with a network of local partners for software deployment, so ultimately pirated software does more damage to the local software industry and the economy than the software vendor. Quoting a research study by International Data Corporation, The News reported in May, 2011 that Pakistan ranks 115 out of 116 countries in the world in terms of software piracy as percentage of total software in use.

Karachi’s Rainbow Centre, Imperial market, the Hafeez Centre,  are some of the busiest software shopping centres in Pakistan, stuffed with pirated CDs, DVDs and other illegally-copied copyright software.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations present a significant challenge in Pakistan, affecting various sectors. There are very few efforts for having well-undated cybercrime laws in Pakistan. The legal system of Pakistan is marred with a lack of awareness, lax and non-deterrent punishments, and a lack of capacity building for implementation and enforcement of intellectual property laws. _________________________________________________________

[1] NADRA Spent Millions on Apple iMacs to Run Opera on Unlicensed Windows (propakistani.pk)

[2] Asia Pacific with World’s Highest Rate of Unlicensed Software Use Leaves Many Vulnerable to Cyberattacks, New BSA Survey Finds | BSA | The Software Alliance

[3] US accuses FBR of using ‘pirated’ version of its software – Print – Business Recorder (brecorder.com) https://www.brecorder.com/news/566354

[4] Pakistan’s tax office denies pirated software caused outage – admits it sometimes runs unsupported software • The Register

[5] USTR Releases 2024 Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property Protection and Enforcement | United States Trade Representative

Joe Elhage

Joe Elhage

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