According to Dhaka Tribune and other media reports, on September 10, police raided the offices of Flora, one of the largest Bangladeshi computer retailers, and arrested a senior executive there on charges of pirating Microsoft software. In fact, this was inevitable.
Not just Flora, but most companies all over Bangladesh have been accustomed to running pirated software for decades. However, recently, a number of significant changes have happened which have altered the government’s long-standing tolerance of software piracy.
Firstly, Bangladesh has signed TICFA (Trade and Investment Co-operation Framework Agreement) with the US government. This agreement gives US companies like Microsoft confidence that they can pursue copyright violations even in difficult legal environments like Bangladesh, as TICFA empowers the US government to lobby in favour of their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) with the local government.
Secondly, Bangladesh has been widely reported to have graduated from the ranks of low-income countries and to become a middle-income country. This development sends signals to multi-national companies around the world that software piracy and other copyright/intellectual property violations in the Bangladesh market are no longer insignificant in value.
Since all multi-national companies are ultimately driven by profit, the increasing value of the Bangladeshi market is harder for them to ignore. If legal cases and police action against companies who pirate software seem like they will increase profits, then those will become more common options. The government has obviously realised that TICFA gives it no option but to treat software piracy as a crime.
Because software piracy has been so common in Bangladesh for so long, the average computer user might be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft Windows and MS Office are free products which come automatically installed in their new computer hardware. However, prosecution of hardware vendors like Flora will quickly alter this scenario. Especially in the case of large companies with hundreds of computers, which present a potentially lucrative target in terms of software license fees, police action, and arrests suddenly seem more likely.
On the other hand, it is unlikely that the senior executive of any large company will be willing to risk arrest for the sake of pirated software. Soon, local companies will have to pay the real price for Microsoft software. For MS Windows, this cost is about Tk14,000 per PC; for MS Office, the additional cost is Tk26,000 per PC. So the total cost of pirated software per PC is about Tk40,000 ($500), which is more than the cost of typical PC hardware. This represents a big cost to Bangladesh companies and consumers.
Fortunately, there is another option. Over the last two decades, the computing world has seen the emergence of free/open-source software which can replace the standard proprietary Microsoft products at zero cost. At Kazi Farms Group, 700 PCs have been running since 2010 on the free Linux operating system, which generally comes with the LibreOffice office suite (compatible with MS Office files), the Firefox web browser, and the Thunderbird email client.
These are almost perfect replacements for their Microsoft equivalents, and can all be downloaded for free (from www.ubuntu.com or www.linuxmint.com, for example). In 2014, the same change was made in over 100 journalist PCs in Dhaka Tribune. Replacement of pirated software by free/open-source equivalents has effectively saved Kazi Farms Group and Dhaka Tribune from any worry of potential future piracy raids and arrests. It has also saved a total of 800 x 40,000 = Tk3.2cr ($400,000) in software license fees.
The same savings and legal safety afforded by free/open-source software like Linux and LibreOffice can be availed by other Bangladeshi companies and organisations. Typically, most people don’t know about free/open-source software as no one publicises it (unlike proprietary products, which are continuously advertising). With the threat of software piracy-related lawsuits and arrests looming, knowledge is definitely power.