Software piracy hurts the open-source community too

OpenOffice.org community manager sees fallout when proprietary wares are jacked.

Proprietary software vendors, movie companies and the music industry aren't the only businesses that don't like pirates stealing, copying and reselling their CDs and DVDs.

It turns out that pirated software can also hurt the open-source community. When stolen proprietary software is used by consumers, that's a lost opportunity for open source software makers to get their own software onto the computer hard drives of new users.

So says Louis Suarez-Potts, the community manager at Sun Microsystems for the OpenOffice.org open source project, who discussed the phenomenon here at the 10th annual O'Reilly Open Source Convention.

"Piracy hurts open source because open source asks people to help give back and contribute code, but they say 'why should I help? I have Microsoft Office for free,'" Suarez-Potts said.

Around the world, he said, many national governments are realizing that this hurts them, too, because their citizens are then consumers of stolen technology rather than active participants in open-source communities that can help people gain technology skills that benefit workforces and nations.

By cracking down on software piracy, nations around the globe are starting to see that they can help themselves dramatically by encouraging innovation and creativity -- as well as job growth and richer economies -- through open source development, he said.

"China wants to create workers who can do this and create and sustain wealth," rather than just sell pirated software that doesn't improve the lives of the country's people, Suarez-Potts said. "We will all benefit if they are creating interesting things."

Other nations, including India, are making similar discoveries, he said. "They really quite clearly see that they should have their own intellectual ecosystems. China is now embracing open source and is asking how they can work with the international communities; likewise in India and Latin America."

In a report last week, the Washington-based software trade association, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), found that six U.S. states -- California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Texas -- make up US$3.93 billion in pirated software losses in the U.S., or almost half of the US$8.04 billion in national losses to software vendors from pirated software last year.

The BSA also conducts annual studies of piracy in countries around the world (download PDF).

The latest version of the OpenOffice suite, Version 3.0, is currently in its second beta version but is expected to be released in final Version 3.0 form by early fall, Suarez-Potts said, nothing that so far the beta version is generating about two million downloads each week.

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