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
, the Persian Gulf
, the UK
, 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
, the UK Press Association
, Network World
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.