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Solving the problem of Piracy in the Third World

Piracy in Third World countries is a prevalent criminal activity. Furthermore, the financial imbalance between rich and poor only seem to strengthens the pirate cause. In this essay Pieter Smal seeks a solution to the problem of piracy in the Third World.

Pieter Smal, Blogger

October 6, 2016

9 Min Read

Nooit bra! Dis mal! [Never, brother! It's crazy!]

- Facebook comment about the price of Battlefield 1 in South Africa

(Schacherl 2016.)

1. Introduction
Piracy is a persisting problem in the Third World [1]. Besides the soaring costs of hardware, many citizens in the Third World cannot afford software from the First World, including products from the entertainment industry. In this essay, I will examine problems surrounding piracy in the Third World with the aim of providing solutions to the copyright crisis. My experience with regards to the Third World is as a South African citizen where I experience continual poverty; outside the coffee shop where I am typing there are three beggars asking for money, barely five meters away from me. As a citizen from/in the Third World, I will use South Africa as a financial example, comparing the South African Rand to the US Dollar ($1 = R 13.75) [2].

2. Financial overview
Workers in the Third World countries are paid poorly due to a combination of factors including economic conditions, political (in)stability, and the availability of resources. The minimum wages in Third World countries may be incomprehensible to the First World readers; in South Africa a Domestic Worked may be paid as little as R 1 993.82 a month @ R 10.23 an hour (US$ 145.05 @ US$ 0.74 an hour) (WageIndicator 2016). With South Africa being a leading economy in Africa, it is unfathomable how destitute countries function on the rest of the continent. South Africa's neighbouring country, Zimbabwe, currently possess an unemployment rate of 95% (Statista 2016) . South Africa receives Zimbabwean refugees by the thousands - many whom I know personally. Although illegal, piracy is seen as a necessary evil where entertainment is used as an escapism device.

3. The hefty price of the First World
Only the middle- and upper class can afford entertainment legally, both minor socio-economic classes in the Third World. A Domestic Worker with a salary of R 2 000 pm cannot afford an XBox One (1TB @ R 6 799) or a PlayStation 4 (1 TB @ R 6 999), let alone the video games for these consoles (trading around US$ 65 = R 899) or the required internet connections that accompany these consoles. Personal Computers are better investments for the poor majority since they are multifunctional devices that can be used for entertainment- and work purposes. Although the initial costs toward a gaming PC might be expensive, PC games (notably through Steam sales) are affordable; data distribution is also an attractive attribute, that is, piracy.

Figure 1: Piracy by Income in Fenlon (2016)

A new study by Fenlon (2016) revealed that PC gamers from the poorest classes pirate video games the most (see figure 1 above). Whilst my essay focuses on Third World countries, I acknowledge that there are dire individuals that pirate in First World countries as well. A quite from Fenlon (2016: 2) exemplify that financial strain motivated acts of piracy:

I'm on disability. I realize that falls into the "lack of income" criteria but it needs to be stressed that my lack of income will never change and is not because "he just doesn't work hard enough".

The need for education is another motivation for piracy, especially at tertiary institutions in Third World countries. In South Africa, tertiary education is at a collapse point with rioting students threatening the disintegration of Universities across the country; even my own studies at the University of Pretoria has been delayed by students protesting tuition fees. For many, piracy is an educational necessity. Professional software (often developed in the United States and Europe) are (almost) always used to train students at tertiary institutions. Most music students cannot afford R 4 107 for a yearly subscription of Protools (US$ 300), whilst architecture students must pay a yearly subscription of R 14 650 ($1 070) for AutoCad, and animation students R 15 333 ($ 1 012) for Maya. Although student versions of select software are available, many student resort to piracy as a means to finish their education.

Gamers are also reacting negatively to the prices of video games in the Third World. EA's upcoming Battlefield 1 has a price tag that leaves gamers furious and annoyed. The retail price of Battlefield 1 rose from R 699 to R 999, whilst the Ultimate Edition will sell for "an eye-watering R 1 899" (Tim 2016). Reaction on Facebook was negative, with individuals [3] commenting:

Fuck EA. Won't buy their games. Hardline and [Star Wars] Battlefront was shit in any way.

Not paying R 1000 for a standard bf1 game. If the prices dont [sic] come down back to what it was they can keep their game. Not getting ripped off coz [sic] they are greedy... think overwatch is a viable option now.

Oh well, piracy it is then.

4. uBuntu
uBuntu is difficult philosophical term to define in English, although "humanity to others" and "I am what I am because of who we all are" has been offered. This concept of communal sharing inspired South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth to create a Linux operation system distributed under the same name: Ubuntu. (Ubuntu 2016.) Many software pirates see their illegal activities as charitable missions, making the pirate a modern-day Robin Hood under the slogan "Sharing is caring". Whilst I do not condone piracy by any means, I understand that piracy fulfils socio-economic needs in the Third World. Whilst Shuttleworth's commitment towards a free operation system is worthy of merit, leading digital companies should seek avenues of affordability. Affordable software will not only solve legal problems but could also stimulate Third World countries toward financial independence.

5. The Pirate Emancipation
Software piracy will be around as long as financial inequality divides the rich and the poor, both in First- and Third World countries. The ideal solution to combat piracy is not to persecute the needy but to support them. Video game developer CD Projekt RED is a leader in this approach, with co-founder Marcin Iwiński (infoSharePL 2016) commenting:

We released [The Witcher III] without any copy protection. So, on day one, you could download the game from GOG, and give it to a friend (enemy as well) [...] and still we sold near to 10 million units across all 3 platforms. But the piracy factor was irrelevant because we cannot force people to buy things. We can only convince them to do it. We totally believe in the carrot, not in the stick [...] I’ve seen many times, comments [that say] "Hey, I couldn’t afford the game when it was full price, but these guys are so fair, and they were never against us. They were always trying to do good, add a lot of value, give free DLC, give free content, that I bought the game from them when it was mid-price."

[...] [In] lower income countries, people just cannot afford a 50 dollar game. So maybe our price-point offering in a certain country wasn’t right. For example, we have lower prices in Russia. And there is [sic] many cases like that.

We don’t like when people steal our product, but we are not going to chase them and put them in prison. But we’ll think hard what to make to convince them. And uh, convince them in a very positive way, so that they’ll buy the product next time, they’ll be happy with our game, and they’ll tell their friends not to pirate it.

And funnily enough, the more we proceed this way, the more we see them again on forums and Reddit and whatnot, we see that there is a guy saying "Hey where can I download Witcher III: Wild Hunt from?" And then there is [sic] 10 people bashing them, "Oh you fucko, do not download the game. These guys are fair, they’re the only fair guys in the industry. You should go and buy it."

(Hernandez 2016.)

Instead of punishing potential customers, CD Projekt RED entice and emancipate pirates. Although CD Projekt RED regrettably didn't release The Witcher III: Wild Hunt at reduced prices in South Africa, their attitude towards poor countries is inspiring. CD Projekt RED's trust in their customers is legendary, as the accompanying leaflet (figure 2) in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt illustrates. Besides fair pricing, free DLC, and famous customer support, CD Projekt RED is an example of supportive customer support that large companies should have. Compare CD Projekt RED to the infamy that currently looms over Electronic Arts.

Figure 2: "Thank you" leaflet in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (source)

6. Conclusion
The problem of piracy is not just a socio-economic problem but also an ideological crisis. Instead of lashing the stick, CD Projekt's RED's "carrot" lure pirates away from criminal activity. Although certain self-pitying attitudes of pirates should be addressed, gaming- and professional software companies should support Third World countries by selling their products at reduced prices. Professional software might sell at a loss at first, but reasonable prices in proportion with incomes in Third World countries will increase customers, customer loyalty, and decrease piracy. When data, in whatever way it manifests, become accessible to all, poverty will be a thing of the past.

1. The Third World refers to developing countries with widespread poverty, usually in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
2. Exchange rate recorded on Monday 3 October 2016 @ 09:00 SAST.
3. These quotations are anonymous to retain the privacy of the individuals involved.

Fenlon, W. 2016. PC piracy survey results: 35 percent of PC gamers pirate. [Online] http://www.pcgamer.com/pc-piracy-survey-results-35-percent-of-pc-gamers-pirate/ [3 October 16].

Hernandez, P. 2016. Some Real Talk On Piracy From A Witcher 3 Dev. [Online] http://kotaku.com/some-real-talk-on-piracy-from-a-witcher-3-dev-1783864910 [4 October 16].

infoSharePL. 2016. Marcin Iwiński (CD Projekt) & Artur Kurasiński (Muse) - Lessons learned / infoShare 2016. [Online] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWhTLvNEYbQ [3 October 16].

Schacherl, R. 2016. Quickie #Inktober2016 pirates doodle! ARRR! [Online] https://web.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10157627616640268&set=a.107397895267.192635.842865267 [6 October 16].

Statista. 2016. The 20 countries with the highest unemployment rate. [Online] https://www.statista.com/statistics/264656/countries-with-the-highest-unemployment-rate/ [4 October 16].

Tim, G. 2016. Battlefield 1’s price on Origin has skyrocketed in South Africa. [Online] http://www.lazygamer.net/gaming-news/battlefield-1s-price-origin-skyrocketedin-south-africa/ [3 October 16].

Ubuntu, 2016. The Ubuntu story. [Online] http://www.ubuntu.com/about/about-ubuntu [3 October 16].

WageIndicator. 2016. Minimum Wages in South Africa.[Online] http://www.mywage.co.za/main/salary/minimum-wages [3 October 16].

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