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Should software publishers meddle?

Cracks: these are programs that will modify the copy protection in an application, enabling you to use the program after a trial period has ended, or access features of the program restricted to fully licensed users. It is illegal to make these modifications.

Certain quarters went so far as to allege that Malaysia was being held ransom by foreign multinationals wanting to invest in the country--but only on the condition that the country took serious steps to wipe out piracy. Government officials were quick to deny the accusation.

However, the allegation may not be too far removed from the truth. BSA represents some of the most powerful software developers in the world, including Microsoft Corp, Autodesk, Inc, Lotus Development Corp, Novell, Inc and Adobe Systems, Inc.

Microsoft, Lotus and Novell have taken a keen interest in Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project, which is aimed at attracting such global companies to set up regional bases to spur research and development, particularly in new software applications and services.

Microsoft's Bill Gates who has visited Malaysia and met Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on several occasions is also known to have brought up the piracy issue to the negotiating table. Recently, Microsoft as part of separate consortia, was on the receiving end of at least three contracts related to the MSC's key application--electronic government.

"Why are enforcement officials collaborating with the foreign copyright owners in the first place?" questioned Hamdan Adnan, president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (FOMCA), indicating that the "relationship" may have a darker side and was open to corruption.

Hamdan said it is ironical that the same Government who wants to encourage the widespread use of software through its MSC initiatives is also putting software out of reach of most consumers. "Students can't afford to pay for original software, so how do you expect them to acquire the skills required to participate in IT-based industries?" he said angrily.

Hamdan said the crux of the piracy problem was one of pricing. "Software publishers should and must bring down prices because they will never gain the markets they are trying to police otherwise. People can't afford the software. If you put one retailer out of business, consumers will source it elsewhere anyway," he said.

Hamdan added that if the Government is serious about encouraging software use, it must force the multinationals to meet consumers halfway. "Set up a system or Malaysian pricing structure that makes software more affordable."

He also described recent tactics by software companies to force computer retailers to advertise apologies for copyright infringement in local press as "underhanded". "That kind of authority belongs to the State, not to multinationals. You shouldn't victimize the PC retailers when your high prices are what tempts them to sell pirated copies in the first place," he noted.




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