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Report:  Software Piracy Rampant in Zimbabwe - 2004-07-27

In a recent report, a software piracy watchdog group, the Business Software Alliance, rates Zimbabwe as one of the countries with the highest rates of software piracy.

The Business Software Alliance report says 87 percent of software used in Zimbabwe is pirated. The BSA is represented in the country by lawyer Nicky Garnett, who says, because of the limited access to personal computers by the general public, business accounts for the majority of the culprits.

Ms. Garnett says the high level of piracy in Zimbabwe is a result of a lack of respect for intellectual property rights and a lack of enforcement. She says things may change when amendments to the country's outdated copyright laws, passed by parliament in 2001, are signed into law by President Robert Mugabe.

"The amendments to the Copyright Act basically put down on paper that we would be allowed, on production of evidence, to go into a premises and search those premises for unlicensed software; they also increase the penalties, which are currently negligible," she said.

The BSA needs to get concrete evidence of piracy before it can get a court order to enter a premises and conduct a search. Such evidence would come from an employee of the errant company or a computer company that might have done business with it.

Ms. Garnett says the police are not involved in the control of software piracy.

"These are civil matters so the police are not involved," she said. "What we do is involve the deputy sheriff so that there is a court officer to make sure we don't act outside the terms of the court order."

To date, only two companies have been ordered to pay damages by the courts in Zimbabwe while several others opted for out of court settlements.

Ms. Garnett sees awareness as the answer to the problem. To this end the BSA runs ad campaigns to educate the public on software piracy which she feels could help curb the problem.