Zimbabwe is ranked as one of the leading nations in terms of piracy from computer software, films and music. This landlocked nation has a lot more copies than originals when it comes to intellectual property. The ripple effect is a decline in computer programmes and entertainment media product sales, with an increase in the use of internet and torrent file sharing methods are fast becoming popular in a country without firm copyright protection policy.
According to a BSA Global Software Survey, Zimbabwe ranked the second highest user of unlicensed software in the world with 89% of installed software being fake. Only Libya was higher than Zimbabwe by 1% as the leading software pirate. However, it must be said that the value of Zimbabwe's unlicensed software market is US$7 million, which is relatively small in comparison with other countries like Libya whose market is worth US$65 million.
"It is our country's situation. People will do anything to get that extra dollar in the pocket. So, if itis selling pirated music or ‘cracked’ software then that’s what they will do. I know you have seen how this has affected our music industry locally. We have people on street corners asking if you want music on your memory card or mobile phones,” said Keith Saiti an IT expert, highlighting the current economic slump Zimbabwe is experiencing.
"Software developers are always updating ways of selling their software. They have moved from once-off sales to monthly or annual subscriptions where you use the software. People get a free/trial version and 'crack it', others use the term 'nulled'. That's when the code of the software is hacked and the subscription/payment function on the software is removed, hence, once installed it will not ask for payment or suspend the service when the term expires. But also, what people do not know is that when they crack the software, hackers can also add their own code which may have viruses, spyware or worms,” Saiti said, highlighting the real dangers of using unlicensed software, as now one in three pirated software items contain malware or spyware.
Zimbabwe has a growing market for pirated programmes with many companies unaware that they are using unlicensed software. Those selling laptops offer software as a free add-on service. There has been a very low uptake in free open source software, with consumers preferring what they are used to. Open source programmes also have compatibility issues.
"The majority of Zimbabweans don't have disposable income and hard currency to afford to pay for premium entertainment products. In some instances, there is geo-blocking of certain services which can't be accessed in Zimbabwe or are only accessible through expensive satellite television services. So, some pirate these hard-to-get television shows such as ‘Game of Thrones’," said Kuda Hove a legal and ICT policy expert.
Internet access is another main factor in why piracy is so rampant in Zimbabwe. In addition to prohibitive pricing,the lack of access to the information superhighway, also encourages the use of torrents and the sharing of films, music and software with peers. Zimbabwe is not blocking sites which distribute pirated products.
"The anti-piracy laws are there, the drive by artists to promote the sale of these products is there encouraging fans to purchase music. But there is a need for a shift of culture. We don't see the immediate harm that is caused by sharing our favourite albums and films with our relatives and friends. So, the lack of understanding of the harm is what encourages piracy," said Hove, who believes that there is a need to make a shift in Zimbabwe’s culture and raise awareness as to why it is important to respect intellectual property.
Many factors push ordinary citizens to breach existing anti-piracy laws, from economic pressures, internet access and ignorance. In some instances, it is pure rebellion, consumers know it is wrong, but just feel that they do not want to pay for it, because they can get it for free.