Our Associate Editor Erico Guizzo—a native of Brazil—blogs today on how pirated copies of Microsoft's new operating system are flourishing in his homeland.
So Windows Vista is out. The launch in New York City included acrobatic dancers rappelling off a five-story building, and some folks even crammed into electronics stores to get their hands on the new operating system. But a long way to the south, in So Paulo, Brazil's largest city, many people looking for the new Microsoft OS are not heading out to a store—but to the crowded sidewalks of Santa Ifignia Street, the city's counterfeit computer paradise.
There, you can get a pirated copy of the Vista Ultimate version for US $7, says a story (in Portuguese) in the Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo. At a legitimate retailer in Brazil, the software costs $460.
With such a huge difference in price, it's easy to see why so many people are enticed by the bootleg offerings. The fact is $460 is a lot of money for many in Brazil: a person making the minimum wage there needs to toil for 11 weeks to accumulate that much. And that means not spending with anything else, like food. Just think that with $460 you could feast at a traditional Brazilian all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant over two dozen times. (That's lots of real nice meat.)
Microsoft executives are well aware of the Brazilian pirates. In fact, the Redmond execs have witnessed it all with their own eyes. This past December, Microsoft's top anti-piracy boss, Keith Beeman, whose official title is director of worldwide license compliance, went for a stroll at Santa Ifignia Street.
One of the vendors around that day was a 20-year-old with long dreadlocks nicknamed "Mouse." At first, he was suspicious of the trim, pasty gringo clad in a button-down shirt, but then promptly offered the Microsoft executive bootleg copies of Windows Vista and Office 2007 for $10 each, according to a nice account (in Portuguese) by the daily O Estado de So Paulo.
To avoid being busted by cops, vendors like Mouse hold carton signs with descriptions of their "products"; if a customer wants one, the vendor runs to a store nearby where the pirated disks are hidden. So the street vendors are just the visible end of a large and organized piracy industry that operates in the shadows.
According to one estimate, every job in the counterfeit industry results in a loss of six to 10 jobs in the formal economy. What to do? Experts say Brazil has enough legislation to fight piracy; what's needed is enforcing the law. But perhaps offering products a bit less pricey would help as well. Vista or meat? Hmm.
[Editor's Note: It's not just Brazil, obviously. Last Thursday, the president of Romania, Traian Basescu, unabashedly told Bill Gates that his country's technological revolution had been based on pirated software from firms such as Microsoft.]