Archive for the ‘TIFA’ Category

TIFA and software piracy

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 4, 2009 in TIFA

ALL the papers have reported the renewed talk between Bangladesh and the US regarding a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). But what does this mean for us? Well, there are many implications, which could be very costly, but I am going to talk about only one, namely, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) on software. It is essential that we enter into such agreements with our eyes open and an awareness of what costs they will entail for Bangladesh.

Integral to TIFA is the idea that Bangladesh respects the IPR of US companies. That means that all the pirated DVDs of movies and software now available will be eliminated. The US government will ask Bangladesh to stop piracy, and Bangladesh will have to ask the police to take action. Otherwise, Bangladesh will be subject to whatever trade penalties the US is able to impose under TIFA.

Are we seriously going to endanger billions of dollars of garments exports for the sake of pirated DVDs? I think not. Piracy will end. With respect to movies, it will be back to the 80s, with neighborhood video rental shops stocking original DVDs. With respect to software, each copy of Microsoft software could cost us thousands of takas.

What is the alternative? A search on the internet will reveal that many governments have decided to promote free software to stop piracy. Even the US government is finding that Microsoft is too expensive. Barack Obama’s first IT-related action was to appoint Scott McNealy, the founder of Sun Microsystems, to advise him on how to save the government money by using free software. Sun is relevant because it sponsors the OpenOffice free office software project; and the easiest way to save money is for governments to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.

The experience from around the world is that this is an easy transition to make. OpenOffice can read Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, and the OpenOffice user interface is almost a clone of Microsoft Office. OpenOffice has a Windows version, which can be downloaded for free, and can immediately replace pirated copies of Microsoft Office on every PC in the country. Even the popular Bangla typing solutions like Bijoy and Avro work in OpenOffice on Windows.

Although moving from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice will save us a lot of money, we’ll still face a stiff bill for Microsoft Windows. The only way to avoid this is to switch to the Linux operating system. This is actually very feasible for government and business users; Linux works fine with the laser printers that most of them use. There is even a free Bijoy-like Bangla typing solution available for Linux.

The people who will be in trouble will be the millions of home users who use cheaper inkjet printers and other devices like mp3 players, for which software is often only available on Windows. These people will have to decide if their hardware is worth the thousands of takas that MS Windows will cost them, and pay up.

Almost everyone has accepted software piracy as a fact of life in Bangladesh. More than anything else, this only shows that our governments have been short-sighted in this matter. Massive violations of IPR generally do not persist forever. At some point, the US government gets involved, and forces a change. That is the change that TIFA is likely to bring. The question is whether or not we will prepare ourselves to deal with it.

Zeeshan Hasan is a leftist local businessman.

The daily star 05.02.2009