While Free and Open Source Software owes its birth to the fact that people wanted an open source platform that they could modify, it owes its success to the fact that more often than not the software is given gratis. It is doubtful that people would have been drawn to Linux in droves if it was sold for a $300/per machine license.
In fact because of copy-left clauses in most open source software licenses-it is nigh impossible to pirate it since sharing the software is in fact legal and even encouraged. Conversely, most copyright owners have to take their fair share of blame for aiding piracy mostly through their unrealistic pricing models. Everyone has been so consumed, as they jostled to stand on the high moral grounds of their conscience, to blame the Pirate and his despicable deed of robbing the artists of their hard earned money that we all overlook the glaringly obvious. More often than not artists who are victims of piracy are the ones that charge unaffordable prices.
There is no reason why a music DVD should cost $5. When confronted Zimbabwean artists are quick to compare pointing out the fact that in other countries disks often costs more for example Alicia Keys DVD album sells for $22 excluding shipping on Amazon.com. It would appear that $5 is less than $22 but nothing could be further from the truth. The average American has $48,112 to spent (GDP per capita) whilst by comparison the average Zimbabwean has $757 per year to spent-that is $63 per month. This before a person even pays their home rentals, so where then will people find the money to buy a $5 DVD? Confronted with this choice – whether to pay $5 or $0.50 for the same disk – it becomes a no brainer.
As the street vendors and Pirates have shown it is entirely possible to produce a music DVD for way less than the $5 retail price currently being charged. The total variable costs are around $0.25 yet these people in an attempt to leverage their obsolete selling networks continue to charge more. It is a common mistake to include the fixed production costs in the price of the DVD by the way. Instead of selling in cozy shops which have to cover their expensive overheads musicians should try to sell their music through the same street vendors that Pirates use. Econet has used the vendor network to sell its airtime and lines with much success. This serves as proof that the vendor network is a legitimate and profitable network.
Microsoft recently launched its Office 2013 and Windows 8 products in Zimbabwe and allegedly plan to sell the latter for a sterling price of $375 through its partners. In the Amazon.com store Windows 8 sells for $139.99 and even if you were to pay $50 for shipping the entire cost would be $190.00 a good $185 savings since no duty is payable on IT products! I can imagine the rest goes to the mysterious partners mentioned in the article. In fact Windows 8 upgrade from XP/Vista/7 will cost only $100 from Amazon and $200 from Microsoft website. It seems insane to me that someone would charge $185 dollars more in a country which is poorer and 70% of the people live below the poverty datum line. If I did not know any better I would call this greed.
Instead of attending the official launch function and parroting the usual anti-piracy lines, the Australian government has summoned Apple, Adobe and Microsoft to explain why they price their products so much higher in Australia compared to the United States. This is despite a stronger Australian dollar. Instead of merely accepting these terms (the $375/license) the government should negotiate a better deal with for its citizens or if it is unwilling or unable at least subsidize the cost of the software. These companies need to appear before a Parliamentary portfolio committee and explain to our unschooled selves why a MacBook Pro which sells for $1,100 is sold for $4,500 here because I bet you if people could make a Pirate MacBook the streets would be filled with them. These companies are bullies and they need to be reined in.
According to a report by Reuters, some Apple products sell in Australia for as much as $40 above the price in the US despite the stronger local currency. Microsoft also sells its products for much more in Australia than it does in the US. The report says so far high local wages, import costs and market size (small that is) have been cited as the reason. I am sure they would find something to blame in Zimbabwe as well although I doubt import costs will make it onto the list given that duty was scrapped a long time ago on IT products. In any case why do they have to bring the software as disks when they could cheaply duplicate the disks locally for twoppence? As for the ridiculous small market reason it does not even make sense.
So why does the iPad sell for $1300 in Zimbabwe more than double the price in America? This is one of the reasons why I cheer at Samsung products even when people say they are cheap imitations of Apple products or not as cool as one UK court has ruled. Even though patent infringements are the equivalent of piracy this does not bother me at all.
The way I see it neither Microsoft nor Apple have lost any significant income as a result of patent infringement or software piracy because only a few (to none) could afford their products in the first place. People would have resorted to other alternatives instead of purchasing these expensive licenses. How would a man explain a $375 Windows 8 license expense on the bank statement to his wife? The answer is he will not even have to explain anything since he earns way below $375 anyway and is thus unable to blow any of it on the Windows 8 license.
Now the sum of the matter is: although software Pirates are no doubt criminals who deserve to be punished, the excessive and suicidal prices and conditions exerted by copyright holders mitigate the gravity of the Pirate’s crimes. In truth the fact that these same copyright holders already have a differential pricing scheme that is the reverse of what it should be, i.e. charge the poor less and the rich more, it came be argument they themselves are criminals. The least these “victims” can be charged with is unethical behavior.
I feel copyright holders, artists and software houses like Microsoft, have themselves to blame for the success of the Pirate industry in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. What do you think? If you can be quick about it people I need to find me a pirate copy of Office 2013. 😉
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