If It's May It's Time For The Press To Parrot Bogus Stats Announcement From The BSA

from the bsa-from-the-bsa dept

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, every May is marked by the release of intentionally misleading and bogus stats from the Business Software Alliance (or, more accurately, the Bogus Stats Alliance) concerning software “piracy.” As with every other year, the stats are compiled by IDC, despite the fact that even IDC has admitted in the past that the BSA is purposely misrepresenting their findings. You would think, at some point, that IDC would stop providing numbers that are blatantly misrepresented… but I guess if the money’s green, IDC will give you the numbers you want.

We’ve been covering these bogus stat reports for many years, providing a detailed look at how misleading the stats are, and pointing out how many in the press simply parrot the numbers without question. Two years ago, a VP at the BSA (who’s now working at the Justice Department, of course) was kind enough to call me to try to explain the BSA’s numbers (along with a PR person and a representative from IDC). When I challenged them on the whole “one copy equals one sale thing” they insisted that their numbers showed such a claim was accurate.

Thankfully, in the past few years, more and more in the press have started to sound skeptical of the BSA’s numbers — but it’s still a minority. Last year, the BSA did a neat trick in getting some publications to run stories about the numbers, while then saying don’t pay attention to the numbers as a way of fending off anyone who criticizes how incredibly misleading the numbers are.

This year, you would think the press would be extra skeptical, given that just a few weeks ago, the GAO report pointed out that these stats are totally baseless (and yes, the BSA was one of the reports they criticized). But, looking through the press coverage, most seem to be just reporting the ridiculous claims such as “$50 billion” in “losses” due to file sharing. Lots of the reports focus on “local” findings — with local publications just covering the claims in that local country (for example, coverage in Malaysia, China, the Persian Gulf, the UK, Korea, India, Canada, etc.). Of course, in the past, even those numbers have been called into question. Last year, after people took a more detailed look at how “piracy” stats were counted in Canada, it came out that the findings were based on pure guesses. No one in Canada was surveyed. They just made up the data.

So, really, you would think that the mainstream press would at least put up some semblance of skepticism in seeing these same bogus numbers released yet again, with no serious changes to the methodology. But, for the most part the reports just repeat the BSA’s talking points. Looking through the press reports, it’s tough to find coverage that expresses any skepticism at all. They just repeat the numbers — the same numbers the US government just said were bunk — as if they were pure fact. Just a sampling: the AFP, the BBC, ComputerWeekly, Computerworld, the UK Press Association, Network World, eWeek and many, many others.

Business Week gets credit for being one of the very, very few sources that at least mentions the GAO’s findings, though it does so in one sentence at the very bottom of the article. The National Journal also mentions the GAO report — though neither seemed to ask (or get any responses from the BSA) to this rather crucial point. ITWire, at the very least, points out that the study is basically made up, noting that:

“estimates of piracy rates are based mostly on inferences and the ‘gut feeling’ of the BSA’s research organisation IDC;

But that’s about all I could find. For the most part, the press — the one’s we’re told are supposed to be asking all the “tough” questions, simply reposted the BSA’s press release as fact. You would think that, given that this report has come out every year for the past seven years — and the methodology has been debunked widely time and time again — this year by the US government — and that the report itself admits that many of the numbers are based on hunches and guesses, that the press would stop reporting them as fact. Wishful thinking, I guess.

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Comments on “If It's May It's Time For The Press To Parrot Bogus Stats Announcement From The BSA”

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jilocasin (profile) says:

CNet: Piracy costs software industry $51 billion in '09

CNet’s at it as well.

Here’s the email I sent to the article’s author. It only took a little legwork to get his email address. CNet doesn’t let you comment without having an account, and while they will let you ’email’ (their little javascript applet) someone just fine, they won’t let you send it unless you log in. Of course they don’t tell you that until you fill in the captcha to send it.

Dear Lance,

Why are you reporting the IDC / BSA numbers as if they were facts? The GAO has reported that the numbers from previous IDC/BSA reports and the assumptions they are based upon are baseless. The IDC has previously accused the BSA of ‘misrepresenting’ their findings and a similar report referenced in Canada was blasted for being basically made up.

Nowhere in your article do you discuss the assumptions or methodology of this report. If it is like their previous piracy reports, it starts with the assumption that every copy that wasn’t purchased was a lost sale and goes downhill from there.

You are doing your readers a severe disservice in simply parroting the IDC/BSA numbers.

Please do some research before you simply re-post what is basically BSA’s propaganda. A correction or followup to your recent referenced article would be helpful.

Here’s a good place to start in finding critics of that annual report.


Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: CNet: Piracy costs software industry $51 billion in '09

“Please do some research before you simply re-post what is basically BSA’s propaganda. A correction or followup to your recent referenced article would be helpful.”

I had this discussion with someone at the washington post. the answer is all the real reporters were let go because they cost to much. The current batch of reporters never learned how to do fact checking, back ground investigations, and are not all that qualified.

Anonymous Coward says:

Say what you will, but as yet I have not heard a convincing argument that the software companies should be lumped in together with entertainment companies (movies, music, etc.) when it comes to piracy of their wares.

Software companies of the type such as MS, Adobe, Roxio, JASC, Xara are quite easily impacted by those who cop freebies of their wares when perfectly acceptable freeware substitutes abound. Since it appears that many of these “cop-ers” are students, perhaps they should take a stroll over to sites like Academic Superstore. They would immediately realize that in many cases huge discounts are provided to students, faculty members, and schools. For example, right now a complete copy of MS Office 2007 Enterprise can be had for $80, and this includes a free ungrade to MS Office 2010 when it is released. Not bad for a program that retails for somewhere between $600-$700.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here’s the thing with students: Most of them are forced to use that software in the first place. Between extortionate book prices, increasing tuition fees and a growing trend of large debt from student loans, the last thing any student wants is to shell out $80 bucks for software that’ll only get used for 4 months.

Me personally, I’ve managed to scrape by with free alternatives and 30 day trials, but only because my professors have been largely benevolent when it comes to student costs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

OpenOffice does virtually everything that MS Office can do and IIRC its files can easily be saved in various MS file formats.

Freeware PDF programs are everywhere.

I can think of no legitimate reason why any student would need to purchase a proprietary software package when so many excellent freeware substitutes abound.

A good site for finding such software is Snapfiles.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re free to provide contrary evidence if you so wish. I know that I, for one, would love to see evidence of losses through “piracy” that don’t depend of faulty methodology and easily disproved assumptions. I’ve been waiting a long time, but we can start that discussion if you have anything to cite and make a real argument.

Also, nobody’s exactly forcing you read this site, and it’s been a long time since anyone took you seriously. Why bother?

Eric Lai (profile) says:

Not every journalist bought the BSA line

I was a reporter at Computerworld two years ago when I wrote a pair of pieces, ‘Fighting Software Piracy with Shaky Studies, and “Study says reducing piracy enriches Microsoft’s partners,” that strongly questioned the methodology of the BSA and our sister firm, IDC. Computerworld and IDC,are both owned by IDG. For anyone wondering, no, none of my editors tried to censor or softpedal my pieces.

Mike does a great service by continuing to bang on this drum. For an in-depth academic rebuttal of the BSA/IDC studies, check out the Singapore professor Ivan Png that I quoted.

TPBer says:


If this is all true I have about a billions worth of software myself, :0. I would never pay for software anyway, most is pure crap. Like the CS is worth 2400, give me a break adobe you keep putting out the same suite and basically move the menu items around. It just pisses us in the printing industry off. I do all I can to spread the sharing of this particular crapware.

Anonymous Lily Liver says:

What about free software?

Number of programs installed – Number of programs paid for = Number of programs pirated

The only problem with the methodology I’ve written above (which is what they used) is that each installed copy of a free program (open source for example) gets counted as a pirated copy. The study doesn’t say anywhere that number of installed programs counted includes software by BSA members, meaning the numbers are not only astoundingly inaccurate, but likely fraudulent as well.

Anyways, now we know why President McKenley named his pet parrot The Washington Post lol. It is a truly pathetic world we live in when the so called “real journalists”, whom the public is expected to trust, doesn’t come anywhere close to qualifying for that title, with blogs doing a far superior job of it. A good and proper journalist would do at least some research before publishing their work. You undermine the faith of your readership by not doing so, and that ultimately leads to lost subscriptions. Nobody wants to pay money for a untrustworthy publication. It is no wonder we’re starting to see many of the big names in news falter.

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