NEW YORK - Worldwide piracy of business software products like Microsoft Office declined slightly in 2002 because of better education and more aggressive tactics in stopping Internet piracy, software industry officials say.
The downturn follows two years of increases blamed in part on the rise of distributing illegal copies online, according to a study released Tuesday by the Business Software Alliance.
The study estimates that 39 percent of business software products in use last year were not legally obtained. Though the global piracy rate had steadily dropped from 49 percent in 1994, the year of the first study, to 36 percent in 1999, it rose to 40 percent in 2001.
The main source of software piracy remains businesses buying one copy of software legally and then installing it over several computers, said Robert Holleyman, president and chief executive of the Business Software Alliance.
To combat that, the alliance continued circulating brochures on piracy and conducting amnesty campaigns encouraging businesses to pay for additional copies without threat of civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution, which could lead to fines and even imprisonment.
"Our educational efforts are really paying dividends," Holleyman said.
Last year, the software group also began using an automated software "robot" to find sites for downloading pirated software and computers that share such programs over Kazaa and other file-swapping networks. Previously, investigators looked for such piracy manually.
Though piracy rates have decreased, the amount of money lost has risen partly because software prices have gone up, according to the study.
Comparable figures for music and movie piracy are not available, but representatives for those industries say the problem is growing given the ease of sharing pirated files over the Internet.
Software manufacturers have had a head start, Holleyman said.
"Technology through the Internet is only now beginning to facilitate the very easy, illegal copying of music and movies," he said. "And for software, because every PC is a software copying machine, since inception we have had a problem."
Rob Enderle, a technology analyst with Forrester Research, added that while music and movies remain stand-alone products, software is increasingly packaged with technical support and regular updates. He said a pirated copy is sometimes worthless without those services.
Companies like Microsoft have begun trying to prevent single copies from being used on multiple computers by requiring special activation codes tied to a specific computer. Holleyman said it was too early to tell how well such moves have worked in reducing piracy.
The study was conducted for the Business Software Alliance by International Planning and Research Corp. The piracy rate was calculated by comparing the researchers' estimates on demand with data on actual software sales.
The study looked only at business software - general applications like the Office suite and antivirus programs as well as niche software titles like AutoCAD for architects and designers. Games, personal finance and other consumer programs were not included.
By region, North America had the lowest piracy rate, at 24 percent, and Eastern Europe the highest, at 71 percent. Vietnam topped the list of countries, at 95 percent, followed by China, at 92 percent, and Indonesia, Russia and the Ukraine, all at 89 percent.