piracy and the philippines

03/21/05 at 9:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Piracy is a thorny issue in the Philippines. I think very few here can be holier-than-thou and say they haven’t bought a pirated game, bootleg DVD or other counterfeit good at some point. Yet most of us agree that piracy is a crime.

Read my Infotech article “Game piracy may be financing other crimes: ESA exec,” based on my e-mail interview with Ric Hirsch, senior vice president for intellectual property enforcement of the Entertainment Software Association. ESA is the US industry association representing the world’s biggest game publishers, and is the owner and operator of Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

I’ve already gotten feedback from those who feel it’s absurd to link game piracy to organized crime. I think this really shows how we as consumers see piracy in terms mainly of getting a bargain, and that most of us think it’s a victimless crime. But have we ever stopped to think about the economic scale of the operations that bring these bootleg products to the hands of our friendly neighborhood pirates?

A reader e-mailed me about this article, saying he was an IT consultant who buys pirated games in order to “evaluate” them, so that he can buy the original copies if he likes the games. He feels that it’s absurd of the ESA to allege that proceeds from game piracy could be funding other criminal activities like drug smuggling or even terrorism.

But I think what he fails to consider is that piracy is an international crime, a global phenomenon. It’s a very profitable criminal enterprise, and while it’s absurd to think that every individual pirate is directly involved with drug or arms smugglers, what the ESA and law enforcement agencies are saying is that the big syndicates mass-producing and shipping pirated games all over the world are also involved in other crimes, including drugs and terrorism in some countries. And since no one will sell these products if no one is buying them, we as consumers are also part of this food chain.

Here’s part of my reply to this reader:

I think most of us agree that it (piracy) is a crime, and that if we ourselves own a form of intellectual property (for instance, our game developers, or IT programmers, or we journalists), we wouldn’t want others to rip us off and use our products illegally.

You might think what Hirsch is saying is absurd, but think about it: Piracy is a very big business all over the world. We are talking about syndicates investing a huge amount of money in machinery, regularly bribing Customs personnel and other government officials, and shipping their products to different international markets. Is it really that farfetched to think that the syndicates in Malaysia, China, Russia and other major producers of pirated games are also involved in other illegal activities like drug and arms smuggling?

The Philippines might be more of a consumer rather than a manufacturer of pirated games, but the criminals who bring these goods in illegally and make them available to retailers wouldn’t be doing this if piracy wasn’t a big business. That’s what Hirsch is saying, that as consumers we might only think of buying pirated goods in terms of getting a bargain, but actually we’re part of a food chain that is by itself a large-scale criminal enterprise and conceivably funds other illegal activities. And if we want to support Filipino game developers, then we must also stop condoning piracy. Piracy is partly what did in Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, and it’s cold comfort for our Filipino game developers to get international awards and praises for their games when they’re being robbed of their hard-earned money.

If you’d like to read more on the subject, a number of articles about the links [between] software piracy and organized crime have come out over the years, some of which include:

Software Piracy Report: Part II

The Impact of Counterfeit Software

Again, I’m not going to be a hypocrite. Piracy has made games, movies, music and other goods affordable to more Filipinos. But if we want to become producers of original Filipino games instead of just being consumers, then we have to start supporting our game developers. But look what’s happening. Our knowledge workers are trying to produce original Filipino content, but the public would rather keep getting things for free or almost free. Pati Anito pinirata. Pati OPM pinipirata. Pati Filipino movies pinipirata.

I don’t really have the answers, because I know most of this is based on economics, and that piracy is a cheap alternative for most Filipinos. But I dream of the day when the Philippines will also become a world-class game development center, when our talented game designers and programmers can earn a decent living in this country and compete with the world’s best without having to leave the Philippines.

I dream of the day when the Philippines will become a major market for international game publishers, with companies like Electronic Arts investing in the country and putting up actual Philippine subsidiaries.

I dream of the day when Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will actually launch their consoles in the Philippines, instead of us having to get our units through the gray market. Heck, we don’t even have Xbox Live legally in the Philippines.

Sure, you might say it’s an impossible dream, and the current woeful state of the Philippine game development industry is just part of the overall pitiful state of our country. But at some point we’ll have to wake up and realize that we can’t be consumers forever — and even then we’re already too small a market of consumers to begin with and we just buy pirated goods anyway, so why the heck should foreign companies invest in our country? It’s not like we’re China, which, like it or not, has been able to get away with piracy because of the sheer size of its market and its investment on infrastructure, local manufacturers, game developers and other homegrown industries. Not to mention that it’s a military superpower, so hey, it’s not like we can complain about how unfair it is to pick on a Third World country like the Philippines when other countries are the ones producing pirated goods.

What we have to realize is that we have to develop a competitive advantage as a nation — not just talented individuals who more often than not end up migrating to other countries. We have to stop this endless cycle of thinking that it’s OK for people to break laws because they’re poor, because at the end of the day we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start getting our act together.

We’re a Third World country because of our Third World mentality.



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  1. It’s a viscious cycle; piracy is big business – sure but it’s illegal. People patronize piracy by choice. That’s why i prefer guilt-free gaming and computing (which is open source). You’ve nailed it right on your last sentence.

  2. Or..maybe, we should start with the Operating System of Computers by advocating Linux through Bayanihan and other distributions as well.. IMO, this will help consumers to shift to free and open source software and prevent/avoid using pirated versions of products just like Micro$oft’s.


  3. Intellectal piracy in the Philippines cannot be eliminated because of 2 main reasons:

    a) Economics – the worse our economy gets the less Filipinos are able to afford “luxuries” like entertainment, and the more they NEED to have it to help them survive the day-to-day madness of living.

    b) Politics – Take a closer look at the distribution network. Haven’t you noticed WHO are the ones peddling the pirated wares? Where they came from? What dialect they speak? Take a closer look at these people. Do they look like sophisticated “crime syndicates” ? Talk to them. If you can understand them. Most are illiterate refugees from Mindanao.

    As a matter of fact, it is common knowledge that a particular area of Quiapo is the central bank of all pirated cds/dvds. Why can’t it be closed down? Because it is owned by a powerful Mindanao bigwig whose political support is coveted by the administration.

    And whenever Edu squeezes a little too hard, he (and the government he represents) is inevitably thrown this question: What will you have us do? We have NO OTHER means of livelihood. Would you rather have us steal, deal in drugs and kidnap?

    Edu Manzano is in a no-win situation. He must tread the fine line between doing his best to stamp out piracy (or risk public ridicule and scuttle his senatorial ambitions) or drive the vendors to worse criminal activities like drug pushing, kidnapping and whatnot.

    So in reality, rather than these Pirates being responsible for other nefarious activities like terrorism and drugs, it is really the other way around, at least in the Philippine setting.

    It appears that it is this thriving massive underground traffic in intellectual piracy (operating in parallel to the massive Divisoria/Baclaran underground traffic in fake brand-name goods that the government has been unable to supress for decades) that is keeping these otherwise un-employable/underemployed/illiterate masses of poor Filipinos from going under.

    The bottom line is–Intellectual Property can only sell in the Philippines if it is priced realistically within the purchasing power of the Filipino.

    Free market forces and the free economy cannot be legislated into compliance. And before we can educate Filipinos on respecting intellectual property, we need to “educate” them all first, and not only the lucky few. Or it will only fall on deaf ears.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. hi jgotangco, yup, guilt-free gaming is the way to go.

    and you and anonymous 1 are right — open source exists as a better alternative to pirated microsoft software.

  5. hi anonymous 2, those are very good points you’ve raised. i really appreciate it.

    but we both agree that this is a thorny issue that will not be solved through law enforcement alone. that’s why i’m trying to focus on consumer education, what we ourselves can do as individuals.

    read my blog post later for more.

  6. Piracy for all its evil does help us consumer in a way. It drive those big corporate to at least slim down their margins and improve their services (small freebies like free software updates is a plus). If piracy drives them drives them to give better services at a not so exorbitant price, it’s a good thing for us consumers. Microsoft gives large rewards to those who report piracy and they’re quite effective. Thus there are means to go about this without government intervention so developers should just take a PRO-ACTIVE stance and quit whining (it never does any good and frankly nobody cares). Markets are at their best when one practices ‘Laissez Faire’ if the developers cannot compete in terms of pricing they should try to make life harder for these pirates. If they just sit back, whine, and expect our government to do their work, then let them suffer.

  7. From what I had read, the problem of piracy is big – it was conceptualized from the conflicts of eastern and western cultures..

    then comes the problem of piracy being unethical and/or illegal.

    Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) influences people especially students to be creative as compared to proprietary softwares as well as pirated ones.

    Well, i’m presently workin on an article about Linux/FOSS and piracy.. I won’t list my ideas here.. 😀

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