Study: Does software piracy alleviate poverty?

A study shows that software piracy has a positive impact on poverty rates in emerging countries. However, the result is debatable.

Does software piracy alleviate poverty? This is the question asked by two Turkish researchers who recently published their results in the Balkan Journal of Social Sciences. In their seven-page study, they establish a statistical connection between software piracy and poverty. Their result: the more seeded and sucked, the less poverty. But how valid is it?

The authors defined the “piracy rate” as the total financial loss that companies incur as a result of software piracy. They examined the impact of this rate on six indicators of poverty, such as the unemployment rate or the proportion of the population living below an (unspecified) poverty line. The data situation covers the years 1210 to 2017.

Questionable sources and methodological errors of the study

Even the definition of the “piracy rate” raises eyebrows, because the authors cited figures from the International Data Corporation (ICD) as the source. The name is certainly familiar to some here, because the IDC is part of the Business Software Alliance. This lobby organization of large software companies such as Apple and Microsoft is characterized by its hunt for friends of cultivated cracking. And it is precisely these companies that may have an interest in exaggerating their losses in order to maximize profits from the warning industry.

Ultimately, they can use the alleged amount of damage to put pressure on politicians to push through new laws and more surveillance. The task of the ICD is to scientifically underpin this influence with data. But: Your data was exposed as unscientific ten years ago.


The study on software piracy and poverty does the scene a disservice, that’s nice whatever their thesis may sound like. But she doesn’t want to say anything anyway, neither in one direction nor in the other. She only puts forward a thesis and backs it up with highly questionable estimates. Actually, that’s all and the article could be over.

But it’s worth taking a closer look. First of all, it is noticeable that the authors have made other gross blunders. They even leave open the question of which countries they have even examined. There is talk of “emerging markets and countries in Latin America”. The number of Latin American countries mentioned suggests that the South American continent itself (i.e. without Central America and the Caribbean) is meant – without guarantee. Let’s take a closer look at this continent.

Reality check

Latin America in particular is characterized by enormous social inequality, which is not taken into account in the study, despite the topic of poverty: not everyone is alive South Americans with five other family members in a tin shack in the favelas, growing coca or digging for gold in the Amazon – but many do. Not every South American lives in a gated community with a villa, pool and housekeeping staff – but many do. And there are millions between these extremes. Some are struggling at the poverty line despite three jobs. Nor do the authors seem to have grasped the fact that wage labor does not guarantee prosperity. Others have enough reserves to face the bad times more or less calmly.

How can a good study on software piracy and poverty look like ?

pirate, skull, Softwarepiraterie

When considering a link between software piracy and poverty (or rather prosperity?), the following questions would be more interesting: Which milieu would rather crack software or suck it? Does their medium consumption differ at all? In which group is software piracy for monetary gain particularly widespread? Is cracked software more likely to be traded or is it more of a means of work and production? An investigation of certain milieus in terms of software use and level of education would make more sense than lumping them all together.

What role does censorship play?

Money is a limited resource for everyone – even for the richest. They don’t commit their favorite crime – tax evasion – because otherwise they would be starving. There are more motivations for software piracy than poverty, despite what the study suggests. It’s understandable that scientists in Erdogan’s Turkey would prefer to avoid the issue of censorship if they want to keep their jobs. Since many South American countries are at best in the upper midfield when it comes to press freedom and censorship worldwide, it is a factor that could play a significant role in the spread of software piracy.

Let’s take a look at the most blatant negative example from South America to-Venezuela. This makes it clear what censorship means there. Not only blocking the network and data retention, but also withdrawing licenses from broadcasters, intimidating critics or making them disappear and replacing the modest reality with softened telenovelas.

Many states south of the Rio Grande were once dictatorships and know how to manipulate masses through the media. The need for software piracy is high – to enjoy freedom of the press as well as to have a more entertaining change from the state media. Figures show how essential software piracy is in the everyday life of many South Americans. These numbers also come from the copyright lobby and should therefore be treated with caution. But at least they are based less on arbitrarily scalable estimates than the “piracy rate” of the Turkish study and more on harder and more easily measurable facts such as page views and bandwidth.

Economic factors play a role in software piracy


Economic sanctions could also shed light on scientists if they make a connection with poverty. Software is less and less a product you buy and then keep forever. More and more companies are offering software as a service that customers can only rent – ​​and they can opt out of it at any time. This was also the case in Venezuela 2019 when Adobe, on orders from Donald Trump, suspended customer accounts. Since every change in the work workflow restricts productivity, i.e. reduces income, customers are more likely to have switched to warez than to turn to free or fee-based competing products.

In all South American countries, the gross domestic product has fallen between 2003 and 2017 tripled or even quadrupled. Poverty rates have fallen in all but one country. The authors of the study do not mention this at all. However, the effect is more likely to be due to social achievements than the “piracy rate”: An increase in the literacy rate, rising education budgets, the increasing participation of women in the labor market, the struggle of the indigenous population for equal rights, the increase in the minimum wage.

In particular, literacy programs and access to higher education created the conditions for many South Americans to escape poverty, move to an area with a stable electricity grid and buy a computer or a smartphone. We must also not forget that in the Global South, outside of the largest cities, the Internet only found its way with the development of the mobile network. Where there are more devices, there is more software piracy. The demand for it will only be created once people have an internet-enabled device.

And what do we learn from this?

So the authors confuse cause and effect and have done the freedom of software a disservice. Your study is as absurd as establishing a connection between global warming and the decline in piracy (here: with ships, sabers and wooden legs). Its scientific nature results solely from the fact that the correlation between poverty and “piracy rate” would first have to be refuted. Good luck with that.

Nevertheless, the study on software piracy and poverty is interesting because it reveals the knowledge gaps in research on software piracy and its dependence on the sovereignty of the copyright lobby. And if you include the education factor more, it makes sense again.

Access to free software makes it possible to learn how to use it and thus achieve a higher level of education or even get the chance in the first place to practice a certain profession – such as video journalist, designer or programmer. Education was and is the key to greater prosperity, across cultures and countries. Costs that private individuals have to bear for training and further education are always gatekeepers before social advancement – whether it’s textbooks or software. Poverty can only be combated effectively if education and digital tools are available free of charge and are therefore really accessible to everyone.

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