A new academic study adds an interesting angle, arguing that software piracy can reduce poverty. While this is a plausible conclusion, there could in fact be more factors at play.
When copyright holders discuss online piracy, they often highlight the associated loss of revenue. However, not all pirated downloads amount to lost profits. While there is certainly a group of pirates who simply refuse to pay for content, there are also people who simply cannot afford it.
This is particularly true for software, which can sometimes be quite expensive. Interestingly, software piracy can also open a door to escape from poverty. Mastering coding or editing skills, for example, allows people to start a business or join the workforce. After all, there are several examples on the Internet where people have developed their skills and become professionals by obtaining pirated software.
A new paper published in the Balkan Journal of Social Sciences tries to give a broader picture of the issue. First, the researchers examine the impact of software piracy on poverty in developing economies and Latin American economies between 2003 and 2017.
The piracy rate is determined by the per capita use of pirated software or the losses reported by companies. Poverty is measured by six indicators, including the percentage of the population living below the poverty line. The conclusions based on this data are quite clear. Higher levels of piracy are associated with less poverty. This effect is consistent and statistically significant across all six poverty indicators.
"Statistically, there is a significant inverse relationship between the use of pirated software and poverty in all six poverty models for samples of both developing and Latin American countries," the researchers report. The relationship between piracy and poverty remains the same when the model is controlled for other variables such as unemployment and health spending. This means that the claim that "increasing the use of pirated software reduces poverty" seems plausible.