Moscow’s bustling computer and electronics markets are popular for bargain prices – but they are equally renowned for piracy.
Leaping out from every corner, the bootleggers offer computer software and games and urge shoppers “don’t pay Bill Gates”.
It’s a legacy of the early years of Russia’s consumer electronics market where, according to Microsoft’s Denis Guz, “all software was pirated to begin with when it first appeared”.
Guz, who is the head of the promotion of licensed software, told a press conference this week that current piracy levels are still high: a survey of 3,000 Russian PC outlets in 75 cities showed that 22 per cent offered some sort of unlicensed software, while 9 per cent sold pre-installed pirated programs.
Despite this at Gorbushkin Dvor, one of Moscow’s largest computer retail complexes, legal manager Sergei Zhidkov believes they are winning the battle.
“There are no pirate products in Gorbushkin Dvor,” he told The Moscow News. “If you are not an expert on piracy, how can you say that something is pirated, when even experts cannot always tell from a glance?
“If the shop assistants tell you that the products are pirated, it does not mean they really are. It is not authentic information. We are the only place in Russia that takes any measures against piracy.”
He said he could not explain anti-piracy measures over the phone, but was happy to make an appointment to demonstrate their policies at another time.
Guz, however, points out that Moscow’s piracy problem in general spiked during the economic crisis.
From 25 per cent in Oct. 2008 it peaked at 51 per cent one year later, before subsiding to 23 per cent last month.
Like Zhidkov, the police also believe it is difficult to confirm whether software is pirated – and they told the press conference that crashing the circulation of illegal discs is a challenge.
In the last two years they conducted 2000 checks among the unlicensed software distributors and opened more than 950 criminal cases.
“There were 4.7 per cent more crimes detected in 2009 – 7711. However, only 71% of them reached the courts due to insufficient evidence or some violations in the way the pirated software was confiscated, etc.” said Interior Ministry special investigator Andrei Doronin.
And often it’s the software companies themselves which cause problems, since a case can only proceed with an official complaint from the copyright holder. Doronin cited a recent instance where two on-going cases in Altai failed to reach court because of this.
Meanwhile there’s no shortage of potential buyers for pirated material.
“No one I know uses licensed software, they charge too much. I don’t see an alternative,” said Edik from Moscow. “Why spend the majority of my salary on a computer program, when I can get it for free?”
He added that prices of legitimate software were just too high in a country where average salaries are around 25,000 roubles a month ($800).
Katya from Moscow agrees. “It is just cheaper and easier. You can download in from the Internet, there’s no need to go to a shop.”
But industry experts say this isn’t necessarily true.
“There is an alternative, it’s possible to install free and legal software if someone wants to save money,” said Andrei Korneichuk, head of IT centre of Alians insurance company. “Besides, it is possible to buy cheaper versions of popular programmes, even if they will not have all the latest features and updates.”
Independent IT expert Sergei Golubev said that free software can meet the needs of the average user – such as getting online, playing CDs and DVDs, writing documents and working with photos.
And he dismissed the idea that they are only for computer geeks.
“Linux distributives, like Ubuntu can be installed in one click, assuming the user knows how to switch on a computer and where to insert a disc, and once it is installed it is ready for work,” he said. “They are easy to download from the website.”
As for Microsoft, Guz said it is possible to buy cheap, stripped down versions of Windows for less than 3000 roubles, or to pay in installments. “You don’t have to buy the 10,000 roubles deluxe editions in fancy boxes,” he said.