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Want a buy a Windows XP for just Rs 70? 

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DQW Bureau
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Windows XP in a double CD set is all yours for Rs 70. Rs 100 if you are

wearing a pair of jeans. Rs 500 if you are seen stepping down from an expensive

car. Rs 1,000 if you look like you can pay up. Rs 2,000 maybe, if you look new

to the deal of buying pirated software. Welcome to the great Indian IT

bazaar--Nehru Place.

"We were selling the Windows XP days before it was actually launched in

India. And yes, it did come with all the clip-arts and features like that,"

a confident voice informed CNS in Nehru Place. "Even now, we can supply

software before it comes to India," he added.

Nehru Place is the paradise for pirated software. You will find these

dealers, some 50 in all, in various assorted tables strewn all over the place.

There are perfectly legitimate CDs on display--usually Windows tutorials by

Indian companies. But ask for a Adobe PhotoShop, and it materializes, almost out

from the blue. Somebody will even loosen his tucked up shirt and fish out the CD

from his insides, and you can catch a glimpse of an assortment of CDs in plastic

packets, tucked in his belt.

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The software sold here even comes with a warranty of sorts, "Bring it

back if there are installation problems. We will refund your money or exchange

the CD." Name a software and they have it. Ditto for game CDs, mp3s to some

extent, and to a lesser extent pirated VCDs. "And if a particular title is

not available, we will get it for you," informed another dealer.

But what with the industry going through a not-so-bright patch, how have

sales been? "We do not think there has been a bad phase. We do not know

statistics. But during the summer vacations, you should have seen the number of

cars lined up. We had huge sales." Yet another dealer pointed out,

"Surveys will of course not reflect the exact figures. Go around asking the

dealers. How many of them will give you a bill of sale?"

Selling prices are not fixed, but vary from customer to customer. There is a

flat rate of Rs 100 per CD, irrespective of software content, for those

customers used to buying software from around here, and thus knowing how much to

bargain for. Operating systems are the best grossers, with Windows 98 topping

the list. As is understood, software used by the home segments or the SMEs are

available more readily out here. A Lotus SmartSuite might be available, but will

take more time and cost more.

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Each of the individual dealers (CNS spoke to 15 such dealers) sell on an

average eight to 10 CDs a day, which translates into a neat profit of Rs 7,000

to Rs 8,000 at the end of the month. Multiply that with the number of dealers on

the prowl, profits are in the range of Rs 4 lakh on a pessimistic estimate.

But as this CNS reporter found out, the piracy picture is all but rosy.

"There are raids on an average once every month. The policewallahs are all

on the know, they take Rs 1,000 every month from us. In fact, the policewallahs

make Rs 1 lakh on an average from Nehru Place. Have you ever seen the cars they

drive or the mobiles they carry? Tell me, how can they afford to do so with a

government salary," retorted one dealer.

Another sad story is that while the petty dealers manning the desks are put

behind bars, or harassed, the leaders who run these operations go around

scot-free. Those who man the desks just do so in return for a salary ranging

from Rs 1,500 to Rs 4,000.

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A dealer not willing to be named informed CNS that recently a dealer was

arrested by the police. He was let off against a bail of Rs 2 lakh and a

security of Rs 5 lakh. "The Boss paid for this. The Boss looks after us as

if we are family. But the police did not even question the antecedents as to why

somebody would pay for the bail. They could have back-traced us? We are being

extra-careful after that. If you are coming up with a report, I can guarantee

you there will be a raid in its wake. At least one of us will be caught and

beaten up. But I can also guarantee you that it will be business as usual soon

after."

We also have to understand the economic imbalances that lead to piracy. The

present scenario is such, that for the average user, it seems to be the only

option out. Consider this, for example. A design consultant can expect to earn

on an average Rs 1 to Rs 6 lakh per annum. If he wants to go in for a bouquet of

legal software--Photoshop, Corel, Freehand etc will cost him somewhere in the

range of Rs 4 lakh. The wannabe designer is therefore left with two options--he

buys legal software worth some Rs 30,000 and wallows the rest of his life in

misery, or he picks up pirated stuff which will not cost him more than Rs 1,000.

Another interesting thing to note is that one of the major sectors where

piracy is rampant is education. How many of our schools, colleges and education

institutes can afford the original stuff? Abroad there are special deals for

education institutions.

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Unfortunately, apart from Microsoft, very few other players have been active

in India as far as this area of focus is concerned.

Pirated software is bad news for the companies, right? Especially so for the

companies which end up losing a lot of revenue.

But what the software companies will not tell you is that software piracy has

its uppers too. The members of the BSA now, had at some stage themselves

encouraged the use of free software and piracy to ensure market penetration.

Again, at least a percentage of people buying pirated software would at some

stage go in for a legal version of the same, if at least for tax reasons. They

might after that, make five copies of the same and use it in five different

workstations, but for a software company this becomes a classic case of half a

loaf being better than none. Also in a developing country like ours, the fact

that there are pirated software doing the rounds has in turn brought up PC

penetration (how many of the local cybercafes you know run on legal software?)

and helped bridge the much talked about digital divide to a considerable extent.

This in turn is good news for the companies, going by the simple rule of

statistics that as the number of users increase and as people become

increasingly aware of the de-merits of using pirated software, the sale of legal

software will also be on the rise; and the piracy level in India will settle

down to an acceptable 15 to 20 percent, rather than the plus 75 percent it

correctly stands at. Till then, its business as usual at Nehru Place.

Sudarshana Banerjee


(CNS)

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